Closure of tobacco factory in Wa state leaves workers stranded between townships

Workers laid off by a cigarette factory in Wa state are unable to return to their homes in other parts of Myanmar because they have been denied permission to enter a neighboring township. 

More than 150 people have been stranded between Mong Khet and Mong Yang townships since leaving the Wa self-administered division late last week. 

The workers were transported out of the region by motorcycle last Thursday but were stopped by police in Mong Yang before they could board buses hired to take them to their hometowns.

The police said they couldn’t proceed with their journey because they didn’t take the “legal route” to the township, according to Phyo Ko Ko, one of the stranded workers.

“We explained our circumstances. We aren’t locals. We just came here for work and we’re returning home because the factory closed down. We don’t know the route they want us to take,” he told Myanmar Now.

“We’re not entering illegally. We’re citizens of the country. And we hold ID cards,” he added.

Most of the workers at the Chinese-owned factory are from Lashio, Yangon, Mandalay and Natmauk. They say they have received instant noodles and other food from local people, but have nowhere to stay.

“The police told us to go back the way we came, but the factory has already told us that if we can’t make it home, it has nothing to do with them,” said Soe Htet Aung, another worker who spoke to Myanmar Now.

He added that the lack of accommodation has been especially hard on the women—some of whom are pregnant—because of the recent cold weather.

Sai Kham, the state parliament representative for Mong Yang township, said the workers will need to show certificates proving that they have tested negative for Covid-19 before they are allowed to continue on their way.

“We will accept them if the administration does the transfers. If not, our town will be in trouble if they bring the virus here,” he said, adding that the workers would also have to be quarantined in line with procedures agreed upon by Wa officials and the Shan state government. 

In April 2020, about 200 Myanmar workers returning from China were denied entry into Mong Yang, but were later permitted to do so after being put in quarantine in Mongla.

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