Saigon dreams dashed, migrants also let down by other localities

By Duc Hien   August 6, 2021 | 06:40 am GMT+7
Last week, Kiem's stone carving workshop in my District 12 neighborhood was visited by a burglar.
Duc Hien

Duc Hien

Two of the workers at the workshop that evening became suspicious after discovering that some clothes and shoes had been gathered and stashed away in a box in a corner. Sticks in hand, they decided to take a closer look. Sure enough, a burglar ran out as they approached. They caught and tied him up.

Upon inspecting the workshop, they found that two packs of instant noodles had disappeared and the large rice cooker was open. A pan of fried rice was still on the stove, with some eggs that the burglar had just added.

When questioned, the burglar said he had not touched any machinery and had only taken a few pairs of shoes and some clothes. Before that, he had cooked and eaten two packs of instant noodles, and was planning to fry the rice and take it back to his rented room for his roommate, who was as hungry as him. "We have been starving all day," the burglar said.

The workers then called and reported the incident to Kiem, so he rushed to the workshop. However, they had released the burglar by the time he reached the place, with some camera footage and his student card the clues to finding him.

I wish they hadn't released the burglar, for if he had still been there when Kiem arrived, he could've gotten some food and money to survive for a few more days. "Some people asked me why I didn't go look for him, but how can I find him in this period of social distancing?" Kiem said.

I believe many people in Saigon have never set foot in the rental neighborhoods on the city's outskirts, and in these times, this become less likely. So many do not know that there is a part of the city where migrants struggle for survival and that their situation is dire now.

I also believe there are many people who have never seen a single starving person, let alone many starving people at the same time. On our volunteering trips these days, my group has encountered young, fit men asking for help after many months of being unemployed.

We cannot criticize them for not being thrifty earlier. Thrift has been a way of life for them. Half their salaries were sent to their families back home, and the remaining amount was barely enough for them to survive.

Concerns about their sources of income and the pandemic have resulted in a surge in the flow of people spontaneously leaving Ho Chi Minh City over the past few days, a sporadic exodus having already begun last month.

To compound the migrants' tragedy, chaos has ensued. Some provinces welcomed their citizens back and organized quarantining in a thoughtful manner, while some others opened their arms to hundreds of returnees with grand welcoming ceremonies only to quietly close the doors to thousands that remained. And some provinces even banned people from outside coming in, even those passing through to another province. At many checkpoints on national highways, tens of thousands of people are being forced to turn back or left stranded on the road.

People wait to be admitted into a quarantine camp in Thua Thien-Hue Province as they came back from working as scrap collectors in HCMC, where they could no longer sustain themselves during the pandemic, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh.

People wait to be admitted into a quarantine camp in Thua Thien-Hue Province as they came back from working as scrap collectors in HCMC, where they could no longer sustain themselves during the pandemic, July 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Vo Thanh.

The other day, Dong Nai police used cars to guide 1,400 workers living in rental neighborhoods of Vinh Cuu District back to their hometowns in Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan provinces. Returnees were given free Covid-19 tests before leaving.

The southern industrial hub Dong Nai has since organized three guided trips for the returnees. To ensure safety throughout the journey of nearly 300 kilometers (186 miles), pregnant women, children and the elderly were taken in cars or buses while the rest rode motorbikes.

The same day that Dong Nai escorted the 1,400 migrants, the People's Committee of Bien Hoa did the same with 240 workers from the town to the same provinces.

That evening, however, Binh Thuan's chairman issued a document protesting Dong Nai's decision to transport the workers back without consulting with Binh Thuan's committee beforehand.

Authorities in HCMC's Binh Chanh District recently fined five individuals VND15 million each as they attempted to bypass a pandemic control checkpoint to return to the Mekong Delta.

The southernmost province of Ca Mau withdrew a decision to accept returnees from HCMC just 48 hours after issuing it, and the central province of Quang Ngai Province has issued a document stating it would not accept citizens returning from pandemic hotspots.

What this has meant is that thousands of people who'd already left HCMC and are on their way home will literally be sleeping on the streets, since they cannot return to HCMC due to the entry ban. So where can they go?

In response to this situation, the prime minister last Saturday issued an official dispatch to resolve issues in the organization and management of migrant flows. He called for "strict control and immediate implementation of necessary supporting measures in life and healthcare so that the people could stay put with peace of mind."

The official dispatch required that provinces must not let anyone move out of their province of residence from after July 31, 2021 until the end of the social distancing period, except for those authorized by the authorities. For those who have already left their places of residence and are on their way to another province, the relevant provinces must organize pick-ups and ensure that they safely arrive at their destinations, the PM directed.

He also said the localities must provide immediate and full food support for all poor workers, those that have lost their income and run out of reserves, so that no one suffers from lack of food or clothing.

The PM has repeatedly reiterated the responsibility of provincial and municipal leaders to take the initiative in helping the migrants. National law also clearly specifies decentralization of power to local people's committee chairpersons with regard to epidemic control measures. Despite this, we are still seeing the scenario of some provinces allowing returnees and others preventing them.

Maybe from now, with the PM's official dispatch, the flow of people leaving the city for their hometowns will decrease and people will choose to stay put.

However, the economically underprivileged residents of HCMC must receive immediate support from the government and the community at large so that they are less anxious about staying on.

Those who have already left for their hometowns should be enabled to reach their destinations under the supervision and support of the authorities.

The official dispatch has asked for "substantive, effective implementation of specific measures to prevent and control the pandemic."

For people like the "burglar" in my neighborhood, "substantive" means precisely determining the resources to support migrants and workers with the simplest procedures. It means using necessities from the state's reserves as well as financial assistance for people who are waiting for timely relief.

It would not have required an official dispatch from the PM to remind provincial and municipal leaders of their duties if they had coordinated their thoughts and actions.

Let us not forget that a long road winds ahead in the fight against Covid-19. I hope there will no longer be an order issued that would make our compatriots feel like they are a safety threat, instead of being treated with compassion and understanding that everyone deserves.

We have enough to worry about otherwise. All of us would feel better if there was no longer any need for people to leave localities because of lack of food, and no more will buses and other vehicles be forced to turn around.

That kind of chaos is failure that we should learn from to ensure that it is not repeated.

*Duc Hien is a journalist based in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.

 
 
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