Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

By Ngoc Thanh, Hoang Phuong   August 17, 2021 | 03:17 am PT
Barely a month after traveling to Hanoi for work, a group of migrants from Lai Chau have decided to make the 300-kilometer return journey on foot.
Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

At 10 p.m. Monday night, a group of ethnic Thai construction workers sat down on Pham Hung Street to rest, snacking on raw instant noodles. The group planned to walk back to their village in Lai Chau Province, about 300 kilos from Hanoi. They have no money.

Ha Van Uyen (R), 30, said they live in Mui Village of Khoen On Commune. They know a contractor who offered them jobs in Hanoi. On July 23, they caught a coach to the capital with the promise of earning VND250,000 ($10.94) a day, plus meals.

But they only worked for one day at a construction site in Hoang Mai District on July 24 when they had to stop due to a Covid-19 social distancing order. From that moment, the group had to remain on site, fed by their contractor.

Three days ago, no more meals where forthcoming, and they failed to reach their beneficiary.

"Many people from our hometown have also returned home on foot. So we will too," said Uyen.

Authorities in Lai Chau sent a car to pick them up in Phu Tho Province near Hanoi on Tuesday and send them to a quarantine camp. The cost for the car trip and their Covid tests, which was VND3 million, was paid by private donors.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

During the social distancing period in the capital, coaches running to other localities have been suspended. It would take the group 4-5 days to reach their village walking.

So far, Lai Chau has only recorded one coronavirus case since the fourth wave hit Vietnam in late April.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

"I've been working as a guard at an Internet cafe on Kim Giang Street for the past two years. I've never returned home since. Last year, business was good, but this year, the Internet cafe closed down as the owner ran out of money. When I left, she gave me a full meal and VND300,000, saying she was sorry she could not take care of me until the end. So I walked the entire evening to My Dinh Bus Station, looking for a ride home," said 16-year-old Ban Toan Kieu, a member of the Dao ethnicity in Yen Bai, after walking nine kilometers to look for a coach.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

About two kilometers away, under the Pham Van Dong overpass, three men from Nam Dinh, Hai Duong and Lai Chau made the place their own home.

There was a mat given by a street cleaner and bed nets donated by a nearby motel. The men often asked for water and toiletries from good Samaritans. Every day, they collect scraps and cartons for a living, but have been unable to sell them due to social distancing.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

A hand fan is their only tool to blow away the heat and mosquitos.

Lo Van Hung, 31, of the Thai ethnicity, said he and his fellows traveled to Bac Ninh to work at a construction site for 64 days. But they were not paid a dime, and when they stood up to ask for compensation, they were threatened and chased away instead.

The men then decided to walk back to Sin Ho District of Lai Chau, but none of them knew the way. They instead followed a rail track all the way to Hanoi. As they didn't have any money, they asked for food and water along the way, before settling down under the overpass.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

"My family's in a tough situation, so I had to part from my wife and two small children to make money," Hung said, adding one of his relatives lost their life during a flash flood in Sin Ho in August last year. The incident rendered him the only breadwinner in the house.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

Son, 31, used the light to count the money from his wallet. "I have VND11,000 in total," he said, trying to conceal his personal information. His face was also hidden beneath a mask as he didn't want to let his family know of his current situation.

Son came to Hanoi as a construction worker in June, after leaving his job at a shoe factory in Hai Duong at the beginning of this year. When he lost the job due to social distancing, Son was given VND1 million by his contractor, and has been living off it for the past three weeks.

He moved underneath the overpass a week after the construction site closed down.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

A makeshift bed on the ground made from a mat.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

Cuong, 40, from Nam Dinh, used to be a security guard for a restaurant near the My Dinh area, but he lost his job when the social distancing period began. As the monthly rent of VND1 million a month, already cut in half by his landlord, proved to be too much, he left with the few belongings he has.

He finally settled beneath the overpass like many others. He has been there for the past three weeks.

Destitute Hanoi migrants scrape by amid social distancing

During the day, Cuong and two other people often go out to collect scrap and other trash. But the social distancing period means they could not sell any. Their usual meals were provided through charity or kind passersby. When they have no rice to eat, they resorted to instant noodles and cold water. At the end of the day, they often went to a now-suspended car wash, asking to shower themselves and wash their clothes.

Cuong only has his 70-year-old father left back in his hometown. When he was still employed, Cuong could make around VND5 million a month, and he would save some to send back to his father. When he moved underneath the overpass, he didn't even bother to charge his phone.

"I don't want my father to know my situation. He would worry," he said, adding he would return to his hometown after the social distancing period ends to see his father.

Since Aug. 14, Hanoi has requested its wards and districts to support migrant workers who are rendered homeless or jobless due to the pandemic. The municipal labor department has also been requested to devise plans to let migrant workers return to their hometowns if the situation allows.

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