Fears are growing that inward access to Thailand may be restricted for some time even beyond the already extended passenger flight ban until July 1st. For thousands of Thai Foreigner families separated in the kingdom and in countries throughout the world, this crisis is becoming ever more challenging with comments this week by government officials and even from the Australian ambassador suggesting that a normal, extended range of flights between Thailand and Australia may not be available until the latter part of the year.
Foreigners living in Thailand and stranded away from their families were devastated last week by the decision to extend the inward travel ban on passenger flights until July 1st at the earliest. However, there is now also growing concern after the Governor of the Thai Tourism Authority suggested, this week, that under the government plans to relaunch tourism, there would be three stages which would only see foreign tourists in Thailand from October. Also, the Australian ambassador to Thailand, Allan McKinnon, who wrote to Paruyth Chan ocha at the beginning of May on this issue, has indicated that the repatriation of Thai nationals to Thailand must be the priority for the kingdom right now. Allan McKinnon, also, in his advice to Australian nationals, suggested that widespread availability of flights between Thailand and Australia may not be seen again until October or November or even into next year.
The extended ban on inward flights has left many foreigners seeking to corral their efforts and reach out to the media to have their position raised.
This week, The Nation newspaper spoke to a range of foreigners stranded and cut off from loved ones in Thailand and around the world from South Africa to Ireland, the UK to Australia and France to the United States.
The tales were heartbreaking and many involved young children such as one foreigner whose child has a serious medical condition or a Chiang Mai based wife and mother, named as Mam, who says she has no answer for her two-year-old little girl looking for her daddy.
Anxiety and uncertainty stemming from this virus continues to grow
The anxiety and uncertainty stemming from this coronavirus disaster continues to grow despite the flattening of curves and reports from Europe and the United States that infection and death rates are falling with business concerns reopening to a ‘new normal’ of mask-wearing, restricted numbers and economic limitations that no one is quite sure will, ultimately, be economical at all.
In Thailand, the government’s performance has been even more impressive but the economic costs will be staggering. We are already sensing a structural and permanent change as it extends.
For most people in western countries, there is support for government lockdown measures and precautions with a grim acceptance that this emergency has got to be worked through.
Foreigner Thai community has grown exponentially in the last 25 years driven by cheaper air travel
For one community in the world, the impact of this disruption has been acutely painful. That is the growing community of foreigners married to Thai partners who are resident in Thailand.
For the last twenty-five years, the number of such families has been surging as has the number of foreigners who regularly visit Thailand and have extended links to the kingdom.
Many Foreigner Thai couples live in western countries with vibrant communities in Europe, the United States and Australia. The growth of this unique populace coincides with the growth of both the internet and cheaper air travel.
However, a large proportion of these couples live in Thailand often with a working parent travelling out regularly to work offshore.
Worldwide community has never been properly measured or identified but it extends into millions
The abrupt cancellation of all inbound flights to Thailand, overnight, on April 4th has left a large number of these families dislocated. It’s not clear what the numbers are but it certainly is in tens of thousands.
This community of foreigners with Thai relationships and links to the kingdom has never been fully evaluated, identified or even properly acknowledged.
This emergency has shown that the numbers involved are high. Ten years ago, there were approximately 300,000 western foreigners living in Thailand and it is estimated that around the world including Thailand, there are 500,000 Thai foreigner relationships including Thai women living in foreign countries.
The number of foreigners with links to Thailand whether they travel here regularly or have here or other connections beyond tourism are estimated to be between 5 to 7 million people.
Irish man cut off from his three daughters in Chonburi as Australian’s Thai wife needs him at home
Irishman Michael O Halloran is stuck at home thousands of miles away while his three daughters from 13 years of age to 20 months await his return to Chonburi.
Daniel Nolan left Thailand for Australia in March to attend his father’s funeral but has now been nearly three months away from his Thai wife, Chonpiti Duangsangaram and 7-month-old baby.
This week, his wife revealed that she had been in contact with immigration officers at Suvarnabhumi Airport in a desperate attempt to ask if her husband can be allowed to return but was told that it was a matter that was beyond their control.
‘My husband is missing helping me look after the baby. Now I have had to move to my father’s home so someone can help me look after my little girl,’ she said.
Two Facebook groups set up to corral opinion and offer moral support to members taking part
Two Facebook group pages have been set up with over 1,700 members (see links below). However, there is some debate among these foreigners as to how to address the problem.
It is quite normal for Thai Foreign Thai community to accept the law and not question authority.
The Facebook groups offer those involved some moral support and a forum to discuss the crisis and how best to deal with the challenge.
It is clear that this is an emergency not only for Thailand but for all other countries and people must accept that they will be inconvenienced to some extent.
Many foreigners are simply glad to know that their loved ones are in good health and are looking forward to being reunited at some point, in spite of the frustration they feel.
However, others argue that families have a human right to be together and that authorities in Thailand should bear this in mind.
Overall, this is a pragmatic group that gets on with life.
Nonetheless, there is growing unease over the extended emergency and what appears to be a lack of thought or consideration for this community which unfortunately is not high on any country’s priority list.
Politically incorrect immigrant community that gives generously and abides by the law
It is an immigrant community but one which is politically incorrect in both western countries and Thailand despite the best efforts of those among it who contribute generously to charity, their communities, establish business concerns and give employment.
All, of course, pay fees and taxes to live in Thailand while abiding strictly to the law.
The community contributes to the domestic economy within the kingdom and externally when monies and earnings are remitted to Thailand.
It is estimated that the numbers stranded are at least in the tens of thousands.
Need to reach out to all foreign embassies involved and request their support on the issue
Many among the groups caution that the best approach to this crisis is simply patience and understanding while others push for reaching out to the media and making the voice of this multinational community heard.
What is agreed upon is that there is a critical need to reach out to foreign embassies and authorities in western countries to have this issue raised.
Many now questioning their lives and futures in Thailand, one foreigner is ready to divorce the kingdom
The frustration caused by the current situation has not surprisingly led to some questioning their continued links with Thailand.
Some, as with the controversy last year caused by a tightening of immigration reporting requirements, see a prejudice towards foreigners while the majority urge patience and understanding.
Alan Edwards, a stranded foreigner had this to say on one of the Facebook forums: ‘I understand that in these difficult times, many difficult decisions have to be made by the Thai government, but does the prejudice against Thai/foreigner families have to go on for so long? How is it fair that Thai people and children must be without a loved one or a parent because they are not Thai?’
One foreigner has already decided.
Alex Rebelee says she’s divorcing Thailand as soon as she can get back to Phuket. It appears that this is the breaking point for her.
‘The FIRST thing I’d do, when I get home to Phuket, owned (since) 10 years ago, is (to) SELL the house, and DIVORCE from Thailand. The drop of water, vase overflow.’
Anxiously watching news updates from the Thai government’s daily Covid 19 centre news briefing
Stranded foreigners are anxiously watching the news from Thailand and the government’s comments on the Covid 19 situation.
The present understanding or hope is that inbound flights may resume to Thailand on July 1st but after two extensions have already been announced, there is a creeping anxiety that the passenger flight ban may be extended further.
Thai Tourism boss makes a startling announcement
Comments by Tourism Authority of Thailand Governor Yuthasak Supasorn, this week, to the effect that tourists were expected again in Thailand in October, have sparked fears.
Was he talking about large numbers or a return to normal traffic levels?
The top tourism executive who is normally upbeat and optimistic about prospects for tourism said that tourists would be expected back to Thailand under the third stage of a new form of inward tourism subject to approval by the Ministry of Health.
New branding for Thailand as a ‘trusted’ destination
He indicated that this was part of a new branding of Thailand as a ‘trusted’ tourist destination or Amazing Trusted Thailand.
His comments appear to suggest that the reopening of Thailand’s borders and air space to inbound passenger flights may indeed only take place in October after two earlier stages of opening up the domestic tourism markets.
Another announcement this week has also caught the attention of foreigners stranded outside the kingdom.
This has been the new commercial ‘business class’ quarantine facilities being touted by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration and spokesman Dr Taweesin Visanuyothin.
Paid for quarantine at hotels working with hospitals – the new tourism model or business class quarantine
This offers luxury quarantine with high-end hotels and hospitals at a price.
The government spokesman appeared to indicate what may happen when the state of emergency is lifted and free state quarantine comes to an end.
This may be the new model for luxury tourism in Thailand run in association with Thailand’s top hotels and hospitals.
However, the government spokesman, a favourite in Thai households, did specify that the range of accommodation would begin at 2-star hotels.
Not clear whether new ‘business class’ quarantine will be compulsory or just a new tourism offering
This would mean visitors or foreigners flying into Thailand would have to, first of all, choose hotels which are in partnership with a hospital and pay for what would be commercial quarantine facilities.
It was not made clear whether this would be compulsory but no alternative was mentioned.
It has been made clear, however, that the Thai state will not be able to afford free state quarantine facilities in larger numbers if the inwards passenger ban were to be lifted.
Thai government agencies tend to view foreigners living in Thailand as long term visitors
It is also not clear whether this form of commercial quarantine would apply to inbound foreigners with homes and families in Thailand but, by law, quarantine measures apply to all travellers.
It is one of those conundrums that regularly occur when discussing foreigners in Thailand as, so often, the Thai government agencies view them as long term visitors or tourists.
Thai government must act with caution
The main issue must, of course, be the health threat posed by this virus which is also raising significant difficulties for populations in all countries.
It also has to be accepted that travellers to Thailand from western countries that have had serious Covid 19 outbreaks, do pose a threat to the kingdom.
The Thai government must exercise caution as part of its duty of care to the wider Thai public.
The only way to address this is to have the specific issue with foreigners living in Thailand addressed directly by respective foreign governments, embassies or representative bodies.
New ‘business class’ quarantine would currently apply to diplomats and work permit holders
The ‘business quarantine’ package outlined, however, was suggested as something only for diplomats and businessmen visiting Thailand with work permits at this time.
At present, those who carry work permits are free to enter Thailand provided they can fly to the kingdom but this cannot be on a passenger flight into a Thai airport as these are banned.
What has also been made clear from the statement is that such a quarantine programme is being developed as the CCSA has invited hotels and hospitals to apply to be part of the scheme.
Hope dashed last week with the second extension of the inward travel ban until July 1st at the earliest
Hopes for the Thai Foreigner community, which has seen couples stranded and left apart since April 4th, were dashed on May 20th when it was confirmed that the inward passenger travel ban had been extended until July 1st at the earliest.
The frustration and helplessness that many foreigners feel over this crisis has led many to raise the issue with their foreign embassies.
The response has been a muted one in respect of this issue except for the Australian embassy.
Australian ambassador has taken up the issue
Allan McKinnon, the Australian ambassador, addressed the concern raised by Australian relationship partners who can’t get home to see their loved ones.
On April 26th, we reported the story of Aussie Brad Dalton who was separated from his Thai wife in Phuket after being left stranded by the flight ban.
There are thousands more like him in Australia alone.
Wrote to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha
Ambassador Alan McKinnon wrote to the Thai prime minister about the ban to see if something could be done.
The response he received was prompt but unfortunately, as anticipated, it was not positive. It read :
‘Dear Ambassador Allan, I am aware and completely understand the situation of these families but given the ongoing transmission as well as limited quarantine facilities and medical personnel within the country, we need to remain cautious about all inbound nationals.’
Thai authorities can only process 200 people per day entering Thailand for quarantine purposes – foreigners cannot be the priority
The Australian ambassador has explained that the problem for Thai authorities is that there is a bottleneck in the number of daily passengers that can be processed and carried into quarantine.
This, combined with the continued large numbers of Thai nationals still stranded abroad, means that they must be given priority when it comes to compulsory quarantine.
There are estimated to be up to 10,000 Thai nationals still interested in being repatriated home.
‘Thai authorities are not focused on bringing non-citizens into Thailand right now,’ Ambassador McKinnon confirmed.
Envoy suggested getting a visa for your Thai loved one and bringing him or her to Australia
This has led the Australian ambassador to suggest to Australian nationals in Thailand that they should consider a partner visa and bring their loved ones to Australia.
It is reported that a number of western foreigners are now beginning to pursue this option although for families with a home and commitments in Thailand, it raises more questions than answers.
Unfortunately, to some, the trend of this virus and the implications in its aftermath is making this alternative loom larger.
A partner visa is akin to a residence visa and takes 12 to 21 months to process. It would effectively mean a decision to move permanently to Australia as opposed to living in Thailand.
The ambassador, however, also recommends that stranded Australians can similarly apply for a tourist or visitor visa to Australia on behalf of a Thai loved one or relationship partner.
There are currently several repatriation flights from Thailand to Australia every month and Thai nationals who are related to Australians and with the appropriate visas can fly.
‘One option may be a visitor or tourist visa which usually allows a person to stay in Australia for up to 3 months at a time,’ he said.
Must get an exemption from the Australian flight ban
But he warned that any Thai nationals on such a trip must obtain an exemption as Australia has its own measures currently in place.
‘Be sure you request an exemption to the travel ban in place as soon as possible,’ he said.
He points out that such exemptions can be processed in three working days and that embassy staff have been able to get all the appropriate documents for all flyers to Australia on repatriation flights in the last month or so.
This is because such flights are now a priority.
Ambassador appears to indicate that flights may not be normalised to Australia until late this year
However, this helpful ambassador, who seems to empathise with the plight of the Thai Foreigner community, seems to indicate in his communications that it could well be into 2021 before the full spectrum of international flights resume.
Responding to one Australian national seeking a flight to Perth as opposed to Sydney or Melbourne he said: ‘But if flights to Sydney or Melbourne are unlikely before October or November and possibly later, then Perth may be well into the new year.’
The ambassador also reminded his audience that internet information being published online in relation to available flights may not be accurate due to various restrictions in each country.
Pragmatic and hard-working immigrant community faces a war-like situation that raises major questions
This community from Thailand and a plethora of countries, which has heretofore simply got on with life living a positive and happy existence has suddenly been confronted with a real emergency akin to war.
This community is based on relationships between Thai nationals and foreigners.
The consequent and necessary government decisions because of the Covid 19 emergency have rocked the very basis of the community which has up to now, depended on cheap airfares and international flights.
It is a unique situation that has caused immense anguish for husbands, wives and children in Thailand.
Prior to Covid 19 a tightening of immigration reporting became an issue for this community in 2019
In 2019, a number of controversial issues regarding tightening immigration requirements emerged which highlighted the growing number of foreigners with links to Thailand and also the fact this community was linked to tourism and inward investment.
Happy, constructive and positive relationships
However, most foreigners in this community simply want to carry on living their unique existence in rich relationships that combine the best of both cultures.
These relationships are an inspiring example to people. They blow away old and negative stereotypes.
Most of these couples have been together for a decade or more. These are, by and large, happy, constructive and positive unions and families. They are not political but fear this problem becoming intractable.