More than 100 Cambodians students and workers stranded in Malaysia for four months without an income landed on a flight straight back home Tuesday, weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen walked back a refusal to assist their return citing the danger of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 115 Cambodian nationals, who were ferried back with the aid of the Embassy of Cambodia in Kuala Lumpur, have been among 143 that lost their jobs amid the outbreak and lacked the resources to go home. The remaining 28 did not seek support from the embassy, sources told RFA’s Khmer Service, while some had since left Malaysia.
Those who came back Tuesday were tested for COVID-19—the infection caused by the coronavirus—and will stay in isolation for two weeks before they can travel on to their hometowns.
Mat Tosry, who is eight months pregnant, said she was pleased to return to Cambodia and excited to continue to Tboung Khmum province to see her four children once she is medically cleared to take action.
“Nothing can compare this feeling—I can’t even sleep,” she said.
“In Cambodia, life now is easier because even when I don’t have a [full time] job, I can just work on a corn plantation and earn around U.S. $5.00 per day to support my loved ones.”
Another Cambodian who came back from Malaysia on Tuesday named Sreang Sam Ouen said she’s excited to be home, but also concerned with her finances.
She said that being jobless in Malaysia for yesteryear four months had left her struggling to pay back that loan she took out in Cambodia, but that she also owes money in Malaysia.
“I’m sad about my return because I owe money to the bank,” she said.
“Three days once i arrived in Malaysia, every thing closed down. If [the government] had allowed me to come back sooner, I wouldn’t be in debt.”
Malaysia recorded its first COVID-19 case on Feb. 3 and issued a movement of control order on March 25, which remained in effect until June 9. Cambodia recorded its first case on Jan. 27 and issued orders to shut down schools and entertainment venues, in addition to its borders with neighboring Laos and Vietnam, in March.
On April 7, Hun Sen announced that he wouldn’t normally provide assist with the 143 Cambodian nationals stranded in Malaysia, citing fears of a viral spread, but rescinded his order on April 27. However, the group of 115 people were struggling to return until Tuesday.
Dy Thehoya, program officer at Cambodia’s Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, welcomed their return, but urged the federal government to continue working together with its embassies to help unemployed workers abroad to return home.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.