Safe from Covid but still no jobs: Migrant workers' dilemma at home

By Long Nguyen   October 11, 2021 | 02:50 pm GMT+7
Migrant workers are relieved to be home amid the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn, but a big question now is, 'what to do for a living?'

At a quarantine facility in the northern Phu Tho Province’s Tam Nong District, where he has been since last week, Trong Trinh, 32, feels relieved he is finally home after traveling 1,700 kilometers on his motorbike from HCMC.

Looking at the images of seas of migrants from Ho Chi Minh City and its neighboring provinces sleeping on the streets and risking everything to travel home amid the pandemic, he cannot believe he was one of them.

"I’m lucky to arrive home safe, and cannot wait to see my parents this week, since I haven’t seen them for three years."

He used to work in a shoe production company in HCMC’s Binh Tan District, but has no idea now what he will do for a living at home, where his parents are farmers and his wife works at a fish processing company.

Since HCMC lifted its long lockdown and resumed socio-economic activities on Oct. 1, tens of thousands of migrant workers have left, facing an uncertain future with limited employment opportunities.

A family of migrant workers returns home with their child, Oct. 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

A family of migrant workers returns home with their child, Oct. 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh

Many returnees cannot hide a sigh of relief when reuniting with families and leaving their pandemic struggles behind.

"The most challenging time is over now, from keeping ourselves safe in the pandemic to traveling home. I will take a rest for a while before seeing what I can do for a living," Nguyen Thi Tu of southern Tien Giang Province said.

Images showing their plight, sleeping on sidewalks, driving or walking under the scorching sun or heavy rain for days, have gone viral in recent days.

"I was yearning to see my family and having home-cooked meals with them during the lockdown in Saigon, now things have become real," Tu said.

Exhausted by the prolonged lockdown, many people know their hometowns, where their families subsist on agriculture, could provide a safety net amid the pandemic.

Expressing similar happiness at being home, Nguyen Tan Tao and his wife, who are in a quarantine facility in northern Lao Cai Province, said: "There might be nothing to do in Lao Cai, but at least we will not be hungry here."

Tao might find a job as a mechanic. His wife, who used to work as a seamstress in Binh Duong Province, said she would support her family by growing winter vegetables.

Many people who virtually risked their lives to return face stigma in their communities, cannot find a job at home, while struggling to adapt to the rapid changes of recent times.

"Job losses in urban areas could drive families back to rural areas that provide limited employment opportunities as well as access to basic social services," the United Nation said in a report last year about the social impacts of Covid-19 on Vietnam.

The International Labor Organization warned migrant workers would face rising unemployment when they return home, and their families would suffer from the loss of their monthly remittance.

The pandemic has had a huge negative effect on jobs across the country. In the first nine months of 2021 the unemployment rate was 2.67 percent, 2.15 percent in rural areas and 3.58 percent in urban areas.

In Gia Lai Province in the Central Highlands, where around 17,000 workers have returned in the last few months, many returnees are struggling to find a new job, according to the Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs.

Le Thi Na, who returned from Binh Duong in August, says: "After months of unemployment, I now have almost nothing left. I have applied at local factories, but they all told me to wait until the pandemic is under control".

Echoing her opinion, Nguyen Thi Diu, who returned to Kim Bang District in the northern Ha Nam Province from Binh Duong, says she will look for a new job right after finishing quarantine.

"I left my hometown because agricultural work in Ha Nam could not provide enough money to support my family, but now I have come back to the starting point".

The UN warns that if migrant families cannot earn adequately in rural areas, caring for children, older people and those with disabilities will become increasingly difficult for them.

Many also face stigma, being branded as virus carriers.

Diu says her mother had warned her that their neighbors would not be welcoming.

A man naps by the road in the northern province of Phu Tho while on a 1,700 kilometer journey back home from the southern Binh Duong. Photo by VnExpress

A man naps by the road in the northern province of Phu Tho while on a 1,700 kilometer journey back home from the southern Binh Duong. Photo by VnExpress

Changes of life also have made many people struggle in their hometowns.

Diu and her three-member family will temporarily stay in her brother’s house, where her parents are also living.

"I don’t know where to live now, it is inconvenient to suddenly live in another house. But we will settle down and find a place to rent soon," she said, adding her seven-year-old son will also need to change school.

"But I have not thought about that - too many things to worry about now.

Others have tried to return to cities following the lifting of lockdowns to find a job, but are stranded by procedures and lack of transportation.

Trinh, a former worker in HCMC, said: "I am finding a temporary job in Tam Nong to settle down. I will return to Saigon when things have returned to normal - there are a myriad of job opportunities there."

 
 
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