Vietnamese workers in Thailand going to die not from Covid-19 pandemic infection but starvation

The Covid-19 pandemic not only exposes the gap between rich and poor, inequality around the world, including Vietnam, but also reveals the miserable lives of Vietnamese workers abroad, typically in Thailand where tens of thousands of Vietnamese work illegally.

Covid-19 pandemic has turned Thailand, one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world into a deep coma, dragging workers working in tourism in this country lost their livelihoods including a significant number of Vietnamese laborers.

In the context of the pandemic, the lives of illegal Vietnamese workers in Thailand became harder.

A completely quiet area in Bangkok without a single person

Used to be a bustling city, a top destination, the most desirable city, attracting the most tourists in the world, where the flow of people was always endless, crowded together but from the middle of February, the number of tourists to Bangkok has become fewer.

In the beginning of March, all daily activities of the people became remarkably quiet. And when the number of Covid-19 infected cases reached nearly 1,000, the Thai Prime Minister declared a national emergency on March 24, bringing the country to a long sleep.

Without tourists, Bangkok is as languid as a drug addict. And without tourists, everyday laborers earn their living here, both Vietnamese and Thai, with obvious anxiety.

Phuong, a character in the BBC reportage, and her younger brother have been in Thailand for more than three months. Thanks to an acquaintance’s recommendation, she worked in a Thai family with a small dried fish bowl. The younger brother has worked to sell fruits and other odd works for their cousin for a long time.

Recently, the owner stopped hiring Phuong due to drastic fall in selling. Her younger brother is also at home now, because the two relatives who have a fruit-selling car have returned to Vietnam to avoid the pandemic after long weeks of dullness.

She said ” With this type of stretching, we will not die of pandemic but starvation. Unfortunately, we just sent all the money home, then the city applied blockage of shops and service. Both of us lost our jobs and now we have no income.”

While Thailand had declared a state of emergency and blocked all cities, Vietnamese workers were in a state where they could not “go or stay.”

Many Vietnamese workers were trapped in Thailand during the closure of the country to cope with the disease because they had no money to return to Vietnam.

As in the case of Ms. Phuong, because she had just come over, she had just sent over $700 of savings after three months of coming here to work, so there was no money back.

Many people who have no valid visas cannot go back to Vietnam because they have not enough money to pay for their journey to the home country.

The journey cost of those who dont have valid visas is big. Traffickers are charging around 9,700 Bahts ($330) due to complicated illegal journey to avoid being detected by the Thai police.

Thailand’s authorities are imposing heavy fines for illegal stay in the country, and the violaters may not be allowed to come back.

Vietnamese workers who are forced to stay without jobs are also very worried for tomorrow, if this situation persists.

SUVARNABHUMI International Airport in Thailand, Bangkok is empty because of corona

Some people eat rice with shrimp noodles, others eat canned fish to limit consumption, maximum savings during this time.

Facebooker Li Ma posted on a Vietnamese Facebook page in Thailand on March 27th sharing the fact that many Vietnamese here are facing: “We have no money for returning to Vietnam while renting due is coming. Some have kids while all are jobless. After getting salaries, all sent back to our families in Vietnam, so we are in difficult in Thailand now. Please inform us Thai employers who still need labor. We are going to die from starvation before being infected by Covid-19.”

Ms. Phuong also confided: “We may have to ask shelter for both of us. We will buy rice and noodle as well as eggs, they are not too costly.”

Because Nghe An is a poor province where jobs are fewer and payments are low, so Phuong and her brother came to Thailand 3 months to make a living. Phuong used to work for 12 hours a day and got paid of 400 Bahts (about $13) and free lunch from the employer. Her younger brother, who was working as a assistant, did not earn much, several hundred Bahts a day. They live in a crowded apartment with 4 other Vietnamese, their monthly rent and utilities were 2,500 Bahts.

Phuong worked seven days a week, and like people living in the same house, only going to work and then returning home to sleep at night, I don’t know other places in Thailand with exception of the working place. Despite difficulties, Phuong had no complain. But Covid-19 pandemic disrupted everything. The plan to hang on to collect money to build a fruit-selling cart, then to find a place to sell it, was less difficult than the current fishery, which seemed to have been turned into a distant dream by the pandemic. Because getting food to overcome this outbreak is too difficult for her and her brother.

Vietnamese who have settled permanently in Thailand are not much better off.

Mr. Bui Dinh Anh, a native of Ha Tinh, and his wife own a small sewing factory, living and working in Thailand for over 14 years, sharing:

My 7 or 8 workers are gone, my wife and I have to close the sewing factory, but we still have to pay the rent for the 6-bedroom house rented the workers and production. I’m worried that the situation will last long, I will suffer great losses. I may have to close the sewing factory and return the house, but I hope it will not happen.”

He shared more about the case of two fish sellers, who are now unable to sell because there are no people to eat, but the owner also has to stay to pay for the rent. They may have to rent a room just for storage and go back to Vietnam, otherwise they have no money to run.

Nguyen Quynh, who has a Thai wife, is running a tourism business. His wife has a barber shop, which has been closed since March 18. He said “We are at home only. Closed shops still have to pay rent. My shop rented out 20,000 Bahts for electricity and water a month, so it was heavy. Luckily we are living in its upstairs, so it helped.’

He added: “But I’m worried, even though the shop is closed, we still have to pay from our own saving. I don’t have any tourists. One or two months is okay, but it will be fatal if both of us have no incomes for longer time.”

It is estimated that there are more than 500,000 Vietnamese workers abroad, of which about 50,000 people in Thailand live mainly in Bangkok and other tourist cities. Most of them came as tourists and stay to work illegally.

Because tourist visas are only valid for 30 days, they have to “go around” every month, ie out of Thailand, enter another country like Laos or Cambodia, then return to Thailand.

The most common occupation of Vietnamese people here is to serve restaurants, pubs, keep cars, look after cars, work as tailors, or open the sewing factory and hire workers. Many others live by selling peeled fruits, juice, ice cream, fried rice, fast food for locals and visitors.

Catholic priest Anthony Le Duc, of the Word Missionary Church, has lived in Thailand for over 13 years and now teaches at the National Bangkok Major Seminary, explaining the reason why many Vietnamese people come here:

” Compared to the Vietnamese salary, the money earned in Thailand is much higher, though not as much as in Taiwan or Korea, but the cost of coming here is also less expensive, costing only a few thousand Bahts, from Vietnam South. Over here, the Vietnamese people who met their relatives and friends introduced their support to them, without having to go through brokers or this and that service. Then if there is any job in the homeland then they go home. So you don’t have to invest a lot for each trip. If the job is available, the working life in Thailand is relatively comfortable compared to other places.”

The situation of Vietnamese workers working illegally in Thailand has been going on for many years but it has not been fully resolved, now they are in danger.

In early 2017, Thailand started to apply a new law that requires migrant workers to have a work permit, otherwise they will be imprisoned. The policy is aimed at preventing human trafficking and mistreating migrant workers in Thailand, which has been criticized by the West for years. However, the consequence of the new law is that thousands of foreign workers quit their jobs and returned home, leading to serious labor shortages. Facing a wave of quitting jobs and pressure from business circles, the government was forced to make concessions, requiring registration instead of asking permission. According to the Ministry of Labor, as of 2017-2018, there were more than 3.8 million migrant workers working in Thailand and about half of these were registered with local authorities, mainly Cambodians and Laotians. and Myanmar.

Since late February 2018, the Thai government has begun to accept Vietnamese workers working in two fields: construction and fisheries. This is the result of an agreement signed by the two countries earlier. However, Vietnamese people in Thailand have low labor capacity, mainly people who come here are elderly people, and women are difficult to do these industries. These two authorized occupations are not only incompatible with the status and skills of Vietnamese people, but also their income is not better when they work in the country. This is the reason that Vietnamese people hardly register to work in Thailand, accept to work illegally with higher income. Later, there was some information that the Thai Government was considering opening up more for Vietnamese workers to work legally in many fields such as housework and factories instead of being limited to the building and fishing as previously agreed, but time went by and it seemed to have no change. Vietnamese workers still sell their labor in Thailand to send money home and the communist authorities still “close their eyes  and shut their mouth” and take no measures necessary to support its citizens.

Trung Nam from Da nang – (Translated)