20 May 2020
Cambodia has had few confirmed cases of Covid-19, numbering just over 100 as of mid-May. The country has taken a number of measures to prevent the spread of the disease. On 20 March, the border with Vietnam was closed and general entry restrictions were implemented for foreign travelers. On 30 March, it suspended the issuance of visas for all foreign nationals. In April, travel between provinces and districts was restricted.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses have closed in Thailand and in consequence, more than 90,000 Cambodian migrant workers have lost their employment and many have returned to Cambodia. UN agencies report that they are working with the Cambodian Government to ensure that migrant workers and their families receive assistance in terms of shelter and food. The UN and partners are working to include migrants in the social protection support package being proposed as part of the exceptional measures created by the Government to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 among vulnerable groups.
IOM Cambodia has printed and distributed information, education and communication materials developed by the Ministry of Health and the WHO. The organisation is also collaborating with UNICEF to manage a hotline providing returning migrants with information regarding access to essential healthcare and psychological support. In addition, IOM Cambodia says that it is working with border authorities to monitor migrants’ cross border movement in order to understand their mobility, respond to their needs, and inform preparedness and response strategies.
Human Rights Watch says that Cambodian authorities are using the Covid-19 pandemic to carry out arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters and government critics. At least 30 people, including 12 linked to the now dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party have been arrested on charges of spreading “fake news” and other offences. HRW has urged the government to immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against all those accused of crimes in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association.
Human rights groups have called on the government to take measures in the country’s prisons, which reportedly have nearly 40,000 inmates despite a capacity of just over 25,000. Due to overcrowding, social distancing measures are effectively impossible in the country’s prisons. Human Rights Watch called on the government to “immediately release people who should not be in custody, including pretrial detainees held for minor offenses, and political prisoners.” According to Amnesty International, Cambodian detention facilities “are a ‘ticking time bomb’ for a potentially disastrous coronavirus outbreak.” Footage releases by the organization revealed terrible conditions in which inmates are being held. The Director in the Office of the Secretary-General at Amnesty International called out the government to “urgently ease this overcrowding crisis while giving all detainees access to appropriate healthcare without discrimination.”
ICRC reports that it has been working in prisons to prevent the spread of Covid-19. On 10 April, the organisation signed an agreement with the General Department of Prisons for the donation of 20 tonnes of medical materials including 50kg of calcium hypochlorite powder, protective clothing, boots, gloves, goggles, water spray buckets, sanitisers and medical face masks. On 20 April, it organised training on disinfection of prisons with chlorine for 28 different prisons. The Ministry of Health insisted that prisoners must wash their hands regularly, not touch their faces and wear masks.
In late March, HRW reported that Cambodian Muslims had been facing discrimination since the beginning of the pandemic. They were accused by the Health Ministry of spreading the virus, which led to “led to an outburst of discriminatory and hateful comments online, and discriminatory daily interactions at markets, shops, and community areas against Cambodia’s minority Muslim communities.”
- Human Rights Watch, “Cambodia: Prisons Potential COVID-19 Epicenters,” 5 April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/05/cambodia-prisons-potential-covid-19-epicenters
- Human Rights Watch, “Cambodia: Fight Discrimination Amid Pandemic,” 30 March 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/03/30/cambodia-fight-discrimination-amid-pandemic
- Garda World, “Cambodia: Visa issuance for foreign nationals suspended from March 30 /update 4,” 30 March 2020, https://www.garda.com/fr/crisis24/alertes-de-securite/327401/cambodia-visa-issuance-for-foreign-nationals-suspended-from-march-30-update-4
- UNAIDS, “Covid-Blog: Providing Protection and Support to Returning Migrants in Cambodia,” 27 April 2020, https://www.unaids.org/en/20200427_Cambodia_migrants
- IOM, “Covid-19 Response: IOM Regional Office for Asia Pacific,” Situation Report 6, 27 April 2020, https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/situation_reports/file/iom_roap_sitrep_covid-19_6_v2.pdf
- Human Rights Watch, “Cambodia: Covid-19 Spurs Bogus ‘Fake News’ Arrests,” 29 April 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/29/cambodia-covid-19-spurs-bogus-fake-news-arrests
- Garda World, “Cambodia: Entry restrictions expanded as of March 20 /update 3,” 20 March 2020, https://www.garda.com/fr/crisis24/alertes-de-securite/324841/cambodia-entry-restrictions-expanded-as-of-march-20-update-3
- S. Narin, “Sar Kheng: All Migrant Workers Cleared of COVID-19, But no Incomes,” VOA Cambodia, 23 April 2020, https://www.voacambodia.com/a/sar-kheng-all-migrant-workers-cleared-of-covid-19-but-no-incomes/5388148.html
- Amnesty International, “Cambodia: Exclusive Footage Reveals Deplorable Prison Conditions,”, 10 April 2020, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/04/cambodia-exclusive-footage-reveals-deplorable-prison-conditions/
- K. Savi, “Prison Staff Receive Red Cross Training,” The Phnom Penh Post, 20 April 2020, https://bit.ly/2zeO74Y
- Prison Personnel Sitting at an ICRC Training on Chlorine Disinfection to Prevent the Spread of Covid-19, ("Prison Staff Receive Red Cross Training," The Phnom Penh Post, 20 April 2020, https://bit.ly/3e6RUjJ)