Burmese Pyaw Sone has been confined in 2021 to dormitories enclosed with barbed wire along with 4,000 other workers, mostly immigrants, amid the largest outbreak of covid-19 detected in Thailand since the start of the pandemic.
Immigrant workers have been especially affected by outbreaks of Covid-19 in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, where they tend to live discriminated against, in crowded conditions and more exposed to the coronavirus.
All three countries depend on migrant labor to work in their factories, restaurants, domestic service or construction.
Pyaw Sone, 26, is confined to the epicenter of the largest outbreak detected on December 17 in Thailand, a seafood market in Samut Sakhon province, adjacent to Bangkok.
“Now I am confined to the bedroom with my companions,” the Burmese explains to Efe by phone from one of the bedrooms, where he says the situation is good, although they are worried about infections.
So far, more than 1,400 infections have been detected among immigrants, which account for almost 20 percent of the more than 7,100 accumulated cases in the country, hit by a new wave that affects more than 50 provinces.
While trying to prove seafood is safe despite the outbreak, authorities have increased movement restrictions, especially for unskilled migrant workers, who are banned from leaving several provinces, including Samut Sakhon.
This move is consistent with the theory advocated by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha that the outbreak started due to illegal immigrants.
“I don’t want to comment on that, but it hurts every time someone looks at us badly (for being immigrants), it shouldn’t happen. As an immigrant worker, I feel sad because it’s not our fault and the authorities have not yet found the origin of this outbreak, “says Pyaw Sone.
The Burmese, who came to Thailand with 12 years from Burma to work, says he has no complaints from his employers and is happy with the 12,000 bat ($ 400 or 326 euros) a month he earns, sometimes more if he works two shifts.
Although some restaurants have even handed out free food to immigrants, mostly Burmese, Cambodian and Laotian, they have also been discriminated against and even abandoned in the middle of a road by their employers after the outbreak.
SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA
Singapore was one of the countries that had best reacted to the pandemic until the appearance of a covid-19 outbreak last April in the bedrooms of immigrant workers, mostly from South Asian countries.
The overcrowding in bedrooms was one of the causes of the outbreak, which infected more than half of the more than 300,000 immigrant workers, who represent 93 percent of the more than 58,000 accumulated cases in the prosperous city-state.
The authorities, who began to vaccinate against covid-19 last Wednesday, have managed to control the situation and have implemented reforms to reduce the overcrowding of immigrant workers, who have also imposed more restrictions than the rest of the population.
The Malaysian authorities have been criticized by various human rights groups for their treatment of immigrants, including arrests of irregular in crowded cells where COVID-19 infections spread last May.
In November, an outbreak occurred in Malaysia in the overcrowded barracks of immigrant workers at several factories of Top Glove, the world’s largest manufacturer of medical gloves, which has doubled and even tripled its profit in the last year thanks to the increase in the demand during the pandemic.
Top Glove, whose products were partially blocked in the United States in July for alleged labor abuses, has pledged to improve bedroom conditions and measures against covid-19.
The regional coordinator of the NGO Mekong Migration Network (MMN), Riko Harima, tells Efe that the situation in the three countries is different, although they have in common that unskilled immigrants live in a situation of vulnerability to covid-19.
“Migrants also often live in a state of social exclusion with limited access to information and social services, including those related to responding to a pandemic,” Harima says in an email.
“MMN collaborators have verified that very few migrant workplaces had measures against covid-19. This is not the fault of migrant workers,” says the activist.