Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday announced that he was reopening the country’s borders to Cambodian nationals who have been living abroad during the coronavirus pandemic, regardless of whether they have been medically cleared of infection.
“Any Cambodians who are holding Cambodian passports and want to return to Cambodia are not required to have doctors’ notes certifying that they don’t have COVID-19,” the strongman said during a speech in the capital Phnom Penh, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“This measure will help people who are living overseas return to Cambodia faster to unite with their families in their own country.”
On return to Cambodia, he said, those who were living abroad will be required to undergo a medical exam that includes a test for COVID-19 and will be placed in isolation for 14 days before they are permitted to return to their families. To date, 124 cases have been confirmed in the country.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health issued a statement on Wednesday saying that any foreign nationals in Cambodia must have a health certificate stating that they are free of the virus and be in possession of health insurance coverage that totals at least U.S. $50,000.
Cambodian migrant workers in Malaysia welcomed the news and told RFA’s Khmer Service they need help from the government to return home because they have been stranded abroad for months with no income as a result of the pandemic’s impact on the local economy.
“Earlier, Hun Sen wouldn’t allow me to return and I was very worried,” said stranded construction worker Ham Saly, who said he lost his job in Malaysia and was struggling financially.
“Now he is going to let us come home. I can’t wait to see my wife and children.”
A restaurant worker in Malaysia named Sreang Sam Oeun, who has also been out of a job, said he was glad that the government won’t require that he obtain a medical clearance to return home, but urged Cambodia’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur to assist him and others who are stuck in the country.
“If they want us to return, please hurry up [with assistance],” he said.
“I am suffering here. I don’t have any money for rent or food. At least 150 [Cambodian] people are stranded in Malaysia.”
Dy Thehoya, program officer at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, told RFA Hun Sen’s announcement is insufficient on its own and called for the government to provide those stranded in Malaysia with food and accommodation until they can return home.
Meanwhile, authorities in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet city on Wednesday deployed at least 25 members of the security forces to surround the home of Din Puthy, the head of the Cambodia Informal Economy Reinforced Association, to prevent him from leading a protest against the ongoing closure of the border with Thailand to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“I have never seen any officers deployed in front of my house,” he said in an interview with RFA.
“This is a threat against our morals, an attempt to split our unity, and an attack on freedom of expression and movement.”
Din Puthy had written a May 25 letter to Banteay Meanchey provincial authorities demanding permission to lead a demonstration on Wednesday of some 1,500 people urging the government to request that Thai authorities reopen the border by the end of the month.
His letter was prompted by the concerns of several local residents who rented stalls and booths in Thai markets but have been unable to resume their businesses because of the border shutdown.
Banteay Meanchey Deputy Police Chief Vong Prathna refused to comment on Din Puthy’s claims that security personnel had been deployed to block off his house and monitor him.
Sum Chankea, Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, called the deployment “a threat against villagers” meant to prevent them from demonstrating and said the move constituted a violation of their freedom of speech.
“This is a form of intimidation,” he said, adding that the government has done little to help those affected by the outbreak. “When people can’t work, they don’t make any income.”
The Thai-Cambodian border was shut down on March 23 to prevent the spread of the outbreak, forcing many Cambodians who rely on their businesses in Thailand to turn to scavenging to earn a living.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.