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HCMC should give migrants deserving credit, treatment

October 7, 2021 | 05:29 pm PT
Pham Trung Tuyen
Migrants made HCMC what it is today, but they were taken for granted. The city should rethink its treatment of migrants to prevent such en masse departures.

Just this year alone, we've seen two en masse departures from Ho Chi Minh City, with tens of thousands of migrants leaving the metropolis behind. It's not difficult to understand why the poor workers and vendors decided to abandon the city amidst a pandemic, but the more important question is: How can we get them to stay?

As Vietnam's economic powerhouse, migrants are HCMC’s lifeblood. They are the ones who run industrial parks and businesses, the mitochondria to the cells of its "sidewalk economy." It is their cheap labor that has turned Ho Chi Minh City into a service paradise. And yet, all these years, we've smugly assumed that the city has been a paradise that has cradled them, given them opportunities and lifted them to where they are now.

It took a pandemic to open our eyes to the truth. Only in their absence did we really, really look at the tough lives they led in the very paradise they helped build.

Among the tens of thousands who've lost their lives to the novel coronavirus in HCMC, how many were considered an official resident? The truth is that a large portion of workers in the city have been living without social security forever, quietly settling in dilapidated neighborhoods and hunkering down in tiny apartments shared with 7-8 other people. Their money runs out the moment they stop moving their hands. Any disease, not to mention Covid-19, could be a catastrophe for those living in such conditions.

Before the pandemic, we thought the city was a haven for migrant workers, that the wages for a typical worker exceeds the profit of an entire season's work on a paddy field patch. We'd forgotten that they too had to make a living in this expensive city to keep themselves afloat, not to mention saving up and sending money back to their hometowns. As long as their cost of living remains high, the thought of the city being their savior is mere wishful thinking.

A man naps by the road in the northern province of Phu Tho while on a 2,000 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 2,000 kilometer journey back home from the southern Binh Duong. Photo by VnExpress

Poor people try to get out of HCMC no matter what it takes simply because they've known the truth along about their survival, their living on the edge.

They know that only their modest hometowns and villages can nurture them and lift them up when they're at their lowest, not a city with skyscrapers. Maybe the promise of striking it rich in the city could lure them back, but for now, Covid-19 scars are their reality. Those scars aren't going away anytime soon, not until the city changes how it treats its poor workers.

If factories and industrial parks had built decent dorms for their workers, they would be able to support them even when production has to be stopped and lockdowns imposed. Living conditions inside dorms would at least be more manageable than the rundown neighborhoods poor workers often resort to.

If the city had centers to receive unemployed migrants and help them return home in emergencies, things may not have turned out the ways they did today.

We have read stories about migrants, registered and unregistered, not being able to educate their children and leaving them behind for grandparents to take care of, not being able to afford decent healthcare, not able to get their money back if their foreign boss absconded and so on. But these moving stories have not led to strong policies to support their stay in the city, to make the city a happier place for them.

We can assume that HCMC will eventually restore itself to pre-pandemic "glory" once production resumes and the migrants return.

But this should be a lesson to the city that it should treat its most valuable residents better, not be an unkind stepmother or worse.

*Pham Trung Tuyen is Deputy Director of VOV Giao Thong. The opinions expressed are his own, first broadcast on VOV Giao Thong in Vietnamese.

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