Stories of distress and courage from Thai workers recently returned from conflict-plagued Israel have the world’s attention turned. Their experiences illuminate questions about the Thai government’s choice to continue exporting labor to volatile zones, particularly the vicinity of the Gaza Strip. Last Thursday saw the homecoming of the initial 41 Thais who were working in Israel, traveling via Israel Airlines flight LY 083. The Thai government shouldered the travel expenses for 15 of them, while the rest financed their own journey home. These individuals only scrape the surface of a statistic – approximately 7,000 out of a staggering 30,000 Thai workers sent abroad – who took up predominantly agricultural roles in Israel
A native of Tak, known as Somma Saeja, unfortunately made it back to Thai soil, reliant on a wheelchair. A causal fatality of the first wave of Hamas attacks, his left knee took a hit, leaving him unable to walk. Recollecting events of the violent October 7, he drew attention to his employer’s actions, who provided shelter to eight Thai workers in his home. The calm of the storm deceived them into believing it was safe to return to their campsite. That’s when Somma caught a bullet in the crossfiring. His wife, 30-year-old Nantawan Saelee, poured her heart out about Somma’s decision to work abroad. Israel’s promise of high income was alluring, but she shared her desire for her husband to secure employment in their homeland of Thailand, as reported by the Bangkok Post.
Another brave soul named Ball, aged 33, shared a different tale of survival. Daringly employed near the Gaza Strip, ominousely known as the ‘red zone,’ Ball found himself fleeing post-Hamas attack. He recalls finding refuge in a forest, only to later be saved by Israeli soldiers. Despite his five-year contract and appealing pay package, when a chance to return home showed up, he didn’t let it pass him by. He also laid bare the hardship many Thai workers face, trapped in Israel due to monetary troubles. Having borrowed money to fund their overseas work, they seemingly cannot afford the flight home.
Nittaya Sunthornchai, the elder sister of Sathit Promunart, another Thai worker, has requested that the Thai government re-evaluate its labor export policy. Her concern focuses primarily on the safety of Thai workers in high-risk zones, most importantly, regions surrounding the Gaza Strip. Her brother has been toiling in Israel since April 2021 and was part of the first batch to return home.
The Thai Labor Minister, Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, promised that the government is tying up with employers in Israel to assure payment of wages due and ensure that the Thai workers can renew their work status once stability is restored. He added that Thais registered with the Aid Fund for Overseas Workers might be eligible for financial support in unforeseen instances of forced repatriation due to war or disability. This financial assistance also accommodates medical bills and the compensation required for early contract termination or loss of life. For more updates and stories from The Thaiger, connect to our brand new Facebook page HERE.