Migrant workers, the weak link in Southeast Asia’s pandemic response

Gaspar Ruiz-Canela

Bangkok, Jan 1 (efe-epa).- Pyaw Sone brought in the new year confined to a dormitory — fenced off with barbed wire — along with 4,000 other mostly migrant workers, amidst the largest Covid-19 outbreak in Thailand since the start of the pandemic.

Migrant workers have been particularly affected by outbreaks in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, where they often live in overcrowded conditions that leave them more exposed to the coronavirus than the rest of society.

All three countries — among the region’s most developed — rely on migrant labor for their factories, restaurants, domestic services or construction.

Pyaw Sone, a 26 year-old from Myanmar, is confined to the epicenter of the largest outbreak detected in Thailand on December 17, at a seafood market in the province of Samut Sakhon, adjacent to Bangkok.

“Now I am confined to the dormitory with my companions,” the Burmese man tells Efe by telephone from one of the dormitories, where he says the situation is good, although they are worried about infections.

So far, more than 1,400 cases have been detected among immigrants, which makes up almost 20 percent of the more than 7,100 total cases reported in the country. The new wave of contagion in Thailand has already affected more than 50 provinces.

While trying to prove that seafood is safe despite the outbreak, authorities have increased restrictions on movement, especially for unskilled immigrant workers, who are banned from leaving several provinces, including Samut Sakhon.

This measure is in line with the theory promoted by prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha that the outbreak began because of immigrants crossing into the country illegally.

“I don’t want to comment on that, but I feel hurt when other people stare at us (for being immigrants), it shouldn’t be like that. As a migrant worker, I feel sad because it is not our fault and the authorities have not yet found the origin of this outbreak,” says Pyaw Sone.

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