Businesses have reopened and begun hiring after the government eased lockdown measures, but migrant workers who returned home and waited for the Covid-19 outbreak to clear are now finding themselves on the outside looking in, unable to re-enter Thailand.
The prospect of them coming back to work does not look good despite soaring demand for migrant workers in reviving the understaffed construction and fishing sectors.
The government has yet to reopen the border, and the Immigration Bureau (IB) is doubling down on efforts to curb illegal crossings to lessen the risk of Covid-19 infections from neighbouring countries. Pol Lt Gen Sompong Chingduang, commissioner for the bureau, said surveillance is being stepped up in every border province, especially adjacent to Cambodia, to curb the illegal entry of migrant workers.
Without jobs and money, many migrant workers left the country when it went into lockdown earlier this year. International labour NGOs have estimated about 50,000 Myanmar and 30,000 Cambodian workers have returned to their home countries. The number of migrant workers in Thailand, with or without work permits, was at 2.7 million before the outbreak of Covid-19.
In recent weeks, migrant workers sneaking across the border, many seeking a return to work, have been intercepted by police.
“The Thai-Cambodian border is seeing increased smuggling activities after the construction and fishing industries started recruiting,” Pol Lt Gen Sompong said. “Police and security forces are paying extra attention to this side of the border.”
Adisorn Kerdmongkol of the Migrant Working Group said several migrant workers who crossed the border illegally still had their valid visas and work permits. Mr Adisorn said the government should come up with a timeline for migrant workers, so they know when the border will reopen. Doing so would prevent migrants from feeling pressured to enlist the help of smugglers.
He stated, the more precarious the situation is, the higher the smuggling fees are, and that establishing a timeline is in the best interest of Thai officials as well because it will help reduce the number of migrant workers seeking to cross the border illegally.
Pol Lt Gen Sompong urged business operators not to place their financial interest before public safety, adding social distancing and strict disease control measures must be observed in every workplace.
“Businesses should not resort to [hiring] illegal migrant workers, and they should not put their workers in crowded dorms,” Pol Lt Gen Sompong said. “If they don’t comply with health screenings and disease control measures, they will put themselves at risk.”