Most of the illegal border crossers are tourists bound for casinos in north-western Bokeo province’s Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone. The Chinese come in groups of 20, 30 or even 50 people. Authorities also deported 184 undocumented citizens of Myanmar. Laos has reported 20 confirmed cases of the virus and zero deaths.
Vientiane (AsiaNews) – Laos has detained and deported hundreds of Chinese nationals in recent months for illegally entering the country to sidestep a mandatory 14-day coronavirus quarantine period and head straight to casinos to gamble or work, local sources told Radio Free Asia (RFA).
Most of the illegal border crossers are tourists bound for casinos in north-western Bokeo province’s Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a gambling and entertainment district that caters mainly to Chinese tourists that has been described as a de-facto Chinese colony.
To avoid a 14-day quarantine required for legal arrivals at official border crossings, the visitors from China skirt border checkpoints on foot by taking smaller roads or small boats across rivers. Laos and China share a porous 420 km border.
“In July, almost 300 Chinese sneaked into Luang Namtha province without passports. They were going to the casino in Bokeo province,” a member of the Luang Namtha provincial Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Control and Prevention told RFA‘s Lao Service.
“They came through a small road, not through any border checkpoint. When they arrived in Luang Namtha, they met middlemen who intended to take them to Bokeo,” the source added.
They were all caught at separate times and deported in July, according to the source, who said that they all tested negative for COVID-19.
A Luang Namtha police officer confirmed that flows of people from China are large. “The Chinese come in groups of 20, 30 or even 50 people. They walk in by taking a shortcut to the main road,” the source told RFA.
“In July, about 38 undocumented Chinese travelled on a large cargo ship. Each of them paid about 2,000 yuan (7) to the ship operator,” a member of Bokeo province’s COVID-19 taskforce told RFA.
But the 38 were not looking to gamble. They were in search of employment, according to the taskforce member. “They said they wanted to go work in the Golden Triangle SEZ. They were deported on August 1,” the Bokeo taskforce member said.
Another 19 Chinese were deported from Bokeo province on 1 July. The Chinese aren’t the only ones trying to sneak into Laos. The taskforce member said 30 Myanmar citizens attempted to illegally enter Bokeo province in May. Bokeo authorities also deported 184 undocumented citizens of Myanmar from the SEZ.
The Lao government announced in early July that casinos would be allowed to reopen but with social distancing measures in place. As of Wednesday evening, Laos has reported 20 confirmed cases of the virus, and zero deaths.
The communist-run country declared itself virus-free in June, when the last of its then 19 cases recovered. It was praised by the World Health Organisation for its “exemplary” handling of the COVID-19 epidemic.