The peaceful tranquility U-Tapao International Airport in the Ban Chang District was interrupted in the early morning hours as the third batch of Thai workers from Israel made their landing. There were 90 individuals in total, forming a group with a broad gender imbalance, comprising of 88 men and just two women. The returnees had left Israel the day before and, through the nurturing care of government arrangements, journeyed home on a commercial flight.
The trek was far from linear. The workers embarked from their foreign home on Fly Dubai Flight FZ1550 at 11am local time. This flight was their first link to the outside world from their now ex-home, taking them to Dubai, located in the affluent realm of the United Arab Emirates. After a layover, the workers then boarded another flight, FZ1837, at 7pm on the same day. The second leg of their Odyssey took them to their homeland, reaching U-tapao international airport in the Ban Chang district at the break of dawn on Sunday, 5.45am to be precise.
Upon their arrival, they were personally greeted with an assembly of high-powered officials. Headed by the U-tapao airport director Adm Sithichai Tangchai and Rayong governor Traipop Wongtrairat, they received an official welcome from the Department of Employment’s deputy director-general, Sibmuenchai Pothisin. To ease their ride back into home soil, the workers were offered nourishment in the form of food and drinking water. Next, they boarded three chartered buses for SC Park Hotel in a culturally vibrant neighborhood of Bangkok – Wang Thonglang district, where their loved ones awaited.
The first one to alight from the airport, aided by a wheelchair, was a significantly injured Nathapong Nuanchan, 35, who had been hit by shrapnel. He relayed a harrowing account of his time in a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. On an average morning, an unexpected gunfire accompanied by explosions left him and his friends crouching on the ground, and him, hit by shrapnel. This tale served as a glimpse of the horrors faced by Thai workers in Israel.
Despite having an employment contract that demanded another year in Israel, Mr. Nathapong would rather return to Udon Thani, his hometown, to find a better job. His sentiment resonates with the rising number of Thai individuals yearning to head for home. Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin reported that the Thai Embassy in Tel Aviv determined the Thai death toll from the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group to be 24, with 16 persons abducted and 16 injured. He further committed to liaise with various agencies for as swift an evacuation of Thai citizens as possible. Following suit with Mr. Nathapong, it’s estimated that thus far, about 7000 Thais have shown intentions to return home.