Thailand: Immigrants apply for a vaccine because COVID takes lives, jobs | Migration Issues

Bangkok, Thailand – When the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in the Thai border town of Mae Sot in April last year, * Hnin Hnin, managed to keep his immigrant school, spend the morning as usual, and play word games on the white board. big while her five-year-olds are watching.

Sickness and death at that time did not last long, and Hnin Hnin, a schoolteacher from Myanmar, was confident that the plague would soon end. Her school, sponsored by local charities, received adequate donations of food, hygiene kits and masks.

But a year later, the epidemic caused by the Delta spread has caused epidemics in factories in the region, stress hospitals have forced districts to stay longer on the Thailand-Myanmar border and forced the Hnin Hnin school to close.

“A lot of people started dying,” he told Al Jazeera. “Many of my friends died. It spread very quickly and now many areas in Mae Sot are infected. ”

The virus struck near the house when Hnin Hnin’s friend and teacher fell ill with COVID-19 in July. Her friend tried to go to the hospital when her condition worsened but she was turned away – she said she did not have her own bed. When he tried to get help to get to his house, no one came.

“They have not received any assistance from the Thai government,” said Hnin Hnin, adding that paramedics only respond to calls from Thai citizens. Hnin’s friend Hnin eventually died at home in late July.

“He was just one of many of my friends who got sick.”

‘The Real Answer’

Recent waves have shaken Thailand, pushing nearly 1.3 million COVID-19 cases in which more than 13,000 people have died. Thailand reports at least 15,000 deaths a day, at least 175 deaths a day – in contrast to last year’s figures, when the number of daily cases was lower and fewer deaths.

As the COVID-19 progresses, border agencies estimate that tens of thousands of migrants and more than 90,000 refugees are facing various problems, such as the lack of medical treatment for coronavirus. And as factories and workplaces get closer, their lives are at stake, which is detrimental to the health of many refugees, experts say.

Hnin Hnin can now close his school for several months.

“With the closure, people began to lose their jobs and money,” Hin Hin told Al Jazeera. “At first we relied on the funding provided, but it is running out.”

Hnin Hnin was making about 3,000 Thai baht ($ 100) per month. But now, they can’t afford to buy enough food. Feeling responsible for his students, concerned about their safety, he hopes they will not get into trouble in the classroom.

“I hope that refugee schools will be reopened soon,” he said. “Because so many kids are being forced to work, or end up on the streets.”

Thai border guards patrol Myanmar border at Mae Sot, Thailand March 18, 2021 [File: Soe Zeya Tun/ Reuters]
Myanmar migrant workers register for testing at the COVID-19 hospital in Pathum Thani, northern Bangkok, on January 10, 2021 [File: Lillian Suwanrumpha/ AFP]

Authorities in Mae Sot have enacted COVID-19 regulations in the region as cases rise in several factories at the end of June. That same month, more than half of the workers in the three factories, numbering 452 people, were confirmed to have COVID-19, according to the Bangkok Post newspaper. In a factory explosion, the regional commissioner ordered the closure of three factories.

Then, in July, authorities set a night limit for the province of Tak, which barred people from leaving their homes at 8:00 pm. The newspaper also said that foreign workers are not allowed to move between the states unless they have obtained permits from the great Mae Sot emperor.

In addition to the increasing number of vaccines, the Hnin Hnin group has been receiving very few vaccines, leaving them infected. When the Thais around him started vaccinating, he wondered why his entire team had been abandoned.

Al Jazeera questioned government officials several times about the lack of vaccines for border refugees. None of the officials responded.

“Lockdowns oversees COVID-19, but migrants do not receive any financial assistance to deal with the expiration date. Vaccination is the real solution,” said Braham Press, executive director of the MAP Foundation, an NGO that seeks to empower people from Myanmar. who live and work in Thailand. “However, for refugees, access to any vaccine is highly unlikely. Few migrants have employers to be vaccinated, but many have to pay a fine. ”

Without adequate security and funding, Brahm says what is happening here is detrimental to the health of refugees. He adds that many foreign workers have gone into debt to survive in the past.

‘Concern for my family’

Thailand is a country of origin, destination, and migration patterns for Southeast Asia. The Kingdom shares four borders with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, and today, some four to five million people from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and other countries are working in Thailand, according to the International Organization for Migration. Refugees and homeless people are also moving across Myanmar’s border to seek refuge. The February 1 government’s move to Myanmar brought a new group of people fleeing the country.

Cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, nine camps across the border are also facing challenges. This comes with travel restrictions that have affected the movement of things like food and medicine.

* Lily, a 23-year-old fugitive from Mae Sot, says she is worried about her family still living in the Umpiem Mai camp where she grew up.

“I’m really worried about my family. I want them to have a chance to get vaccinated because they are old and my mother has an incurable disease, ”said Lilly. “She is not in good health. My parents can’t go to work, and sometimes they don’t have money to buy food. I send money whenever I can. ”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says refugees and refugees should be included in the government’s response to COVID-19, including treatment for the disease and its immunization program.

“COVID-19 affects everyone and the POCs (people with anxiety) in Thailand are equally at risk of contracting the virus and transmitting the virus as local people,” said Morgane Roussel Hemery, deputy director of the External Relations Officer at UNHCR. “POCs can be at risk mainly due to the difficulties they may face in terms of need, access to COVID-19 information and access to sanitary ware or medical care.”

In June, Thai authorities closed and closed more than 600 camps in Bangkok, where workers from more than 80,000 other countries live. They were not allowed to leave their homes and were completely detained. Officials also expressed concern after COVID-19 clusters were found in transit areas.

“Most immigrants are paid on a daily basis, and if they do not work, they are not paid. For some who have closed the factory, they can get help with food, “said Sally Thompson, executive director of The Border Consortium, which provides food, shelter and other necessities for Myanmar refugees.” it’s difficult and if they have dependents to take care of them, the burden increases. “

The idea of ​​dividing large immigration groups has raised suspicions among the authorities, and foreign workers say they feel they are being repeatedly harassed by Thailand.

In Mae Sot, Hnin Hnin is concerned about the lack of students at school and fears that more people could die without vaccination and access to medical care.

“The problem is that if you are Thai, you can get the vaccine for free,” he said.

“For those who have moved to another country, we can’t even afford to pay for it. I think some people will die if they don’t get any medical treatment.”

Additional reports of Linn Let Arkar.

All migrant names have been changed to protect their privacy and security.

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