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Thailand: COVID outbreak among Myanmar workers sparks anti-migrant backlash

Deutsche Welle, Thailand, 28 December 2020 - After keeping the coronavirus pandemic largely under control for almost a year, a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases among workers from neighboring Myanmar has ignited anti-migrant sentiment among some Thais.

More than 1,300 coronavirus cases across Thailand have now been connected to a seafood market in the coastal province of Samut Sakhon, near Bangkok, a revelation that has stirred up anti-migrant sentiment among some Thais.

Samut Sakhon, where a 67-year-old Thai prawn seller tested positive for COVID-19 on December 17, is home to a large number of workers from Myanmar, and many have blamed them for the outbreak.

"Shoot all of them down since they don't follow the rules," one Thai citizen commented on a Facebook post, which claimed three Burmese men had fled Samut Sakhon. "Kick them back to their country," read another Facebook post, referring to Burmese migrants.

A local media report, however, revealed that the three Burmese men had entered Thailand legally in July to work as fishermen. They returned to the eastern province of Chonburi after visiting relatives in the south of the country.

Since the outbreak, Samut Sakhon has been put under lockdown and migrant workers are barred from leaving or entering the province.

Blame game

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said migrant workers were the "likely" culprits behind the record surge in coronavirus cases, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has blamed the flare-up on "illegal immigrants."

"It is unclear where the original source of infection came from, but it is obvious that migrants live in conditions ripe for the rapid spread of COVID. This is not their fault," Brahm Press, the director of local migrant rights group MAP Foundation, told DW.

Press said the Thai government "only sees the situation in terms of security," which is "totally counterproductive."

Naruemon Thabchumpon, director of the Asian Research Center for Migration (ARCM), said the Thai government "should treat both sides equally (citizens and non-citizens)" as "COVID-19 doesn't discriminate."



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