Are Myanmar migrant workers becoming criminals during Covid-19 crisis?


Myanmar still continues welcoming its migrant workers back from across Thailand every two days at Myawady-Mae Sot Friendship Bridge No.2 on the border between the two countries.

Returnees said they had a lot of difficulties coming back home amid inter-district travel restrictions in Thailand, where Covid cases are soaring in the third wave. 

Myanmar halted accepting returning migrant workers on July 19 during the pandemic, leaving over 800 others stranded in Thailand’s Mae Sot. Then, acceptance resumed on August 1. 

Authorities in Myawady District disseminated education about Covid-19 to the Myanmar returnees.  

Covid testing is carried out as soon as they enter the country. Those who tested positive for the virus were sent to the Covid Center in Myawady Township for treatment. Those free from the virus were sent to Kyauklonegyi Quarantine Center in Ward No.4 for ten days.  

The over 800 workers stranded in Mae Sot returned from the Thai police, immigration or the special detention center. They returned not because they committed a crime but because they felt homesick. 

“The migrant workers returned home after paying money to the Thai immigration and police officers through brokers. Even after their payment, they could not leave immediately. They have to wait in Bangkok. They are allowed to leave depending on how much they paid. If you pay 3,000, 7,500 or 8,000 baht, there will be differences in waiting time. The problem is that they cannot go back to Thailand. All of their documents will be stamped with a ‘cancel’ seal by the Thai immigration,” said Moe Gyo, Chairman of Joint Action Committee for Burmese Affairs (JACBA) based in Mae Sot.   

Some migrant workers are returning from Thailand as they are out of work following their factory closures caused by the Covid-19 third wave, while some are coming back to take care of their ailing parents and relatives.   

“With our factory having closed and my mother getting ill, I decided to come back home to take care of her. Since I was stranded in Mae Sot for over a month, she has now died,” said a woman returnee with her eyes filled with tears. 

Some heavily pregnant women reportedly gave birth to their babies in Mae Sot while awaiting to go home. 

A Myanmar worker in the area of Mae Sot said: “We feel so homesick that we want to return. But if we want to so, we have to get arrested and give money. The Thai immigration stamps cancel seals on our documents so we cannot go back to work. So we can’t help it. I have to set aside my homesickness.”   

JACBA chairman Moe Gyo said stamping a cancel seal on documents means that a worker has been regarded as a criminal. 

“The Thai government charges migrant workers for renewal of their documents and collects money for social security. But in the second and third waves of Covid-19, they don’t care for Myanmar workers. If a worker died of Covid-19, the body would be taken by municipal officials. The family was not allowed to come to the funeral,” he commented.  

A young woman out of work after being infected with the virus said those having tested for positive for Covid-19 were sent to a quarantine center for 14 days without receiving treatment. If they did not die, they were sent back to their hostels. But they would not have a chance to go back to work, she added. 

Anyway, migrant workers have to help with each other in Thailand that still sees surges in Covid-19 cases and deaths. 

Despite such difficulties, around 200 Myanmar migrant workers are returning to their motherland every other day via Mae Sot-Myawady Road. 

At Myawady-Mae Sot Friendship Bridge No.2, Myanmar authorities accepted and welcomed 200 returnees on August 1, 206 on August 3, 204 on August 5, 202 on August 7, 203 on August 9, 199 on August 11, and 204 on August 13. 

The total number of returnees in the third wave of the pandemic has reached 1,418.   

Unfortunately, migrant workers are having their documents stamped with a ‘cancel’ seal by Thai authorities when they return home during the Covid crisis. As such, the question arises as to whether every worker returning home in the Covid period is regarded as a criminal.