COVID-19 Op-ed

COVID-19 exacerbates Vietnamese migrant workers’ plight in ASEAN

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Dinh Duc NguyenMA candidate
in Globalisation: Politics, Conflicts, and Human Rights, School of
Humanities, University of Brighton

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, strong measures employed by the
Vietnamese government to contain the spread of the virus were recognized and
praised by the international community (IMF, 2020). The media rarely mention
the stories of the migrant workers overseas, who have suffered from the
adverse effects of these measures. The suspension of the right to come back
to their country has caused difficulties for Vietnamese workers.Vietnamese Migrant
Workers in ASEAN
Vietnam provides its neighbouring
countries in Southeast Asia at least 100,000 migrant labours (ILO, 2019),
 where the majority of them are young people from remote areas who go
abroad for low-skilled jobs. Thus, they are sensitive to any sudden change,
which creates a financial burden.On 10th August, the Facebook group “The
support team for Vietnamese in Singapore” (Facebook, 2020) described the
situation of some Vietnamese workers, who lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
They have been arrested for selling tobacco illegally and now, they are
detained in Tanah Merah – Changi prison. Since May, nearly 2,000 Vietnamese
on the Facebook Group of Vietnamese in Singapore have been trying to contact
Vietnamese authorities for help (Pho BolsaTV, 2020). Meanwhile, many are not
only facing legal obstacles, such as the expiration of visa or working
permission but also financial problems such as food and accommodations.
Furthermore, some workers whose labour contract was completed could not
return to the country due to the suspension of flights (Reuters, 2020). Those
who have lost their jobs are also asking to be repatriated. They claimed that
they did not receive any support despite several attempts to contact the
Vietnam Embassy in Singapore. Consequently, they had to rely on themselves to
survive.About 50,000 Vietnamese labourers are working in Thailand. Utilising
the ASEAN’s visa-free policy, Vietnamese can travel to Thailand to work as
manual labourers or in the tourism industry (BBC, 2020). Yet, unknown numbers
are working without the appropriate visa. When Vietnam and Thailand sealed
off their borders, thousands have been trapped in Thailand (Diplomat,
2020).Thai immigration Bureau annouced that it would extend visa amnesty for
foreigners whose visas expired on March 26 to stay in Thailand until 26
September (Bangkok Post, 2020), (TTR Weekly, 2020). However, migrant workers,
who overstayed their visas before the lockdown, were still arrested in June
2020 (ILO, 2020). This is a common worry among Vietnamese community in
Thailand (BBC, 2020).  The situation became more severe when they lost
their jobs due to the impact of the pandemic. Until September, hundreds have
been stuck in Thailand for 5 to 6 months. (Nhan Dan, 2020). The policy on
travel restriction of the Vietnamese government seems to forget about these
migrant workers.Lessons learnedAccording
to international law, States have the right to restrict the right to free
movement in light of an emergency, such as a public health disruption.
(Article 12, ICCPR). Amid Covid-19, such measures have exacerbated the
conditions of migrant workers, whose lives are already vulnerable even before
the pandemic started. Firstly, they do not receive adequate support from the
Vietnamese government when they are stuck abroad. Secondly, the sudden and
robust decision on travel restriction led to a lack of preparation from the
migrant workers. Both of these signals provide the incomprehensive
containment measure where the migrant workers are in a disadvantaged
position. Furthermore, this fact points out that ASEAN does not have a regional
crisis management mechanism, which leads to the denial  of rights of
migrant workers. Meanwhile, in ILO research, the statistic states that 32 per
cent of currently employed respondents said they faced employment challenges
or abuses related to COVID-19 (ILO, 2020).Migrants from Vietnam, or from any
country for that matter, should enjoy the full protection of rights by both
destination and sending countries. Hence, we need to examine–why are the
rights of migrant workers always considered last?References:

  1. Bangkok Post (2020). Visas extended, relief measures approved.
    Retrieved from
  2. BBC News Vietnamese (2020) Virus corona: Ai có thể giúp những người
    Việt lao động khốn khổ tại Thái?. Retrieved from
  3. Facebook. 2020. The support team for Vietnamese in Singapore.
    Retrieved from
  4. IMF (2020) Vietnam’s Success in Containing COVID-19 Offers Roadmap
    for Other Developing Countries. Retrieved from
  5. ILO (2019) TRIANGLE in ASEAN Quarterly Briefing Note. Retrieved
  6. ILO (2020) COVID-19: Impact on migrant workers and country
    response in Thailand
  7. ILO Brief (2020) Experiences of
    ASEAN migrant workers during COVID-19: Rights at work, migration and
    quarantine during the pandemic, and re-migration plans
  8. Nhan Dan (2020). Three hundred thirty-eight citizens came back
    from Thailand. Retrieved from
  9. Pho BolsaTV (2020) LIVE: Những tiếng kêu cứu của người lao động
    Việt Nam từ Singapore, xin giúp đưa về nước tránh dịch. Retrieved from
  10. Reuters (2020), Vietnam bars entry to all foreigners from Sunday.
    Retrieved from
  11. The Diplomat (2020). Amid COVID-19 Crisis, Southeast Asia’s
    Migrant Workers Fall Through the Cracks. Retrieved from
  12. TTR Weekly (2020). Thailand extends visa amnesty. Retrieved from

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