On a crisp, Thursday morning, a poignant scene unfolded at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand – a place renowned as a bustling gateway to astonishing destinations. This time, however, it was not the starting point of an adventure but rather the end. Forty-one Thai workers who had braved dangerous conditions and hostility in Israel were finally home, greeted by the heartwarmingly familiar faces of their loved ones and a well-deserved sigh of relief.
Of these returning citizens, fifteen were escorted home by the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the rest had organized their personal plans to return home. They all disembarked from El Al Flight LY083, their feet touching their native soil at 11.22 am.
Several high-ranking officials were present to welcome them, including Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, Labour Minister Pipat Ratchakitprakarn, Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang, and the Deputy Public Health Minister, Santi Promphat.
One individual who particularly stood out was Katchakorn Pudtason. He was one of the two returnees needing special assistance and a wheelchair, due to a knee injury sustained under dire circumstances. Pudtason recalled the gripping tale of his escape from a Hamas attack on an Israeli farm where he was working. He sought temporary safety in a shelter at his employer’s premises before risking the journey back to the farm in the rear of a vehicle. “That morning,” he shared, “fighting broke out, and it was downright terrifying.”
He described bullets slicing through the air around them, and then one struck him. “I was the first to get hit – right in the knee… I initially thought I was hit with stones,” he said, recalling the gruesome experience. Four of Pudtason’s colleagues were also hurt in the attack – one took a shot to the cheek.
The returnees were escorted from the airport to the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute, where they underwent health checks and would receive compensation from the Ministry of Labour. Post this, they were set for their onward journey back to their home provinces.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it has been ascertained that 16 Thai workers have been taken hostage by Hamas fighters since the conflict began. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin also reported an increased number of Thai fatalities, bringing the death toll to 21. Out of the estimated 30,000 Thai workers in Israel, a substantial 5,174 have already volunteered for repatriation – this being confirmed by Kanchana Patarachoke, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) is on standby with aircraft ready to speed further Thais back to safety. Although these rescue journeys are contingent on permissions from other nations to traverse their airspace, the RTAF is poised to begin the evacuation of 220 Thai nationals come Sunday, the next batch expected on October 24.
A further helping hand came from three local airlines – Thai Airways, Thai AirAsia, and Nok Air, who have all indicated their readiness to aid with repatriation endeavours. In the words of the Transport Minister, Suriya Jungrungreangkit, 80 seats on commercial flights are booked for Thais departing next Wednesday.