The pain and anguish being suffered by members of Foreigner Thai families, a larger community than first thought of before this crisis, at being denied access to Thailand has been communicated to the kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs by western ambassadors in Bangkok and a range of representative bodies. It is through this route and perhaps not with an opening up to tourism, that many foreigners may first get the chance to be reunited with their loved ones. It could well be until the end of this year before anything like normal access to the kingdom resumes.
The Thai government announced this week the end of the night-time curfew from June 15th and the availability of alcohol in restaurants or licenced eateries. However, the current easing of coronavirus restrictions within Thailand will not extend to an opening of the kingdom or any semblance of what used to be normal access within the next few months or possibly until the end of the year. This is the current outlook. The best hope for those seeking access to families and loved ones in Thailand is that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will, at some point, allow applications to enter from foreigners with links to the country under restricted and exceptional conditions including a 14-day alternative quarantine requirement currently priced at between ฿45,000 and ฿100,000 per person. However, the good news is that it does look like that such access may occur before tourism resumes and be accompanied by limited access for international flights.
The government’s top Covid spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin said on Saturday that it would maintain tight control over access to the country by land, sea and air due to the continued threat from the virus.
Dr Taweesilp of the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) also gave another key reason for the international flight ban on Saturday when he explained that long haul flights were more dangerous than domestic travel as the virus needs at least two hours exposure to infect an individual.
It comes as Thailand moves forward with an easing of restrictions throughout the kingdom which is due to be complete by early July.
Question about the extension of the international travel ban from June 30th and state of emergency
However, key questions for many foreigners with families who are stranded outside Thailand include when will the air travel ban imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority expire or will it be extended beyond June 30th? Will the state of emergency be extended also beyond that date?
There has already been a clear indication that strict controls will be kept in place for many months to come. This week, the deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam indicated that the state of emergency was quite necessary to implement the current 14-day quarantine apparatus that has been assembled by the government.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam suggested that without the emergency powers to issue decrees and bind together operations of government departments, officials and the military, it would be difficult to envisage such measures working.
Alternative quarantine scheme a key part of the plan
This includes the alternative quarantine scheme whereby foreigners can pay for their quarantine period at rates now being quoted at between ฿45,000 to ฿100,000 per stay.
Initially, a price offering of ฿32,000 was reported but it is understood that because of excess demand, this option is now unavailable.
There is also speculation about tourism bubbles to allow tourists back into Thailand in the third quarter of the year from relatively safe countries.
This week, New Zealand was quoted alongside South Korea, China and Japan as one of the countries which have expressed an interest in the scheme.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the best hope
For stranded foreigners, the best promise now lies with the definite indications that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considering prioritising them for special access to the kingdom on a case by case basis after the repatriation of Thai nationals has been completed.
The first problem here is reported bottlenecks with the capacity in June to only process 500 people per day and the question of the availability of rooms under the alternative quarantine scheme.
There are also indications that Thai authorities may prioritise those seeking access to medical treatment in the kingdom’s hospitals as a more urgent matter.
Australian Ambassador and others pushing the case
Representations on behalf of this community have been made by ambassadors from western countries in Bangkok as well as a range of other representative bodies including various Chambers of Commerce.
The Australian ambassador Allan McKinnon has been particularly attentive to the issue.
The representations by the Australian envoy and others have drawn a sympathetic response from the ministry.
Recently, Natapanu Nopakun, the Deputy Director-General of the Information Department at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this: ‘Our repatriation mission is nearing completion, and once that is done, then we can accommodate the flow of foreigners stranded outside Thailand.’
Controlled numbers of foreigners are now arriving in Thailand being dropped off by flights in Bangkok
On a more positive note, foreigners have begun arriving in Thailand in larger numbers from a trickle weeks before, under the current allowances and permits being issued through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Right now, certificates of entry are limited to work permit holders and come with a large range of additional requirements such as $100,000 health insurance including against Covid 19 and a health certificate. Each application is considered on a case by case basis by the ministry in Bangkok before approval is issued through the relevant embassy.
A UK woman returning to Thailand to be with her son and working here as a teacher, reported this week on conditions at a Bangkok Hotel where she is quarantining after transferring ฿45,000 before leaving on a flight for Thailand.
She was dropped off days ago by a KLM flight from Malaysia which stopped over in Bangkok and because all her paperwork was in order, was processed. She was admitted into the kingdom and the alternative quarantine scheme.
She was taken from the airport in a minivan.
Bangkok hotel full of quarantine guests
She reported that two floors of the hotel were full of quarantining guests availing of the alternative quarantine scheme which involves severe restrictions in lifestyle and activities within the hotel including a high level of security and food served outside the door in plastic containers.
It is reported that the government is currently adding more bedrooms to expand the scheme to 9,000 hotel rooms over the coming weeks.
This would indicate that this is the proposed regime for some months to come and may well be the route offered to locked out foreigners to negotiate in order to be reunited with their loved ones again in Thailand.
Foreigners banned officially from interprovincial buses this week – must have a Thai ID card
For now, foreigners both inside the kingdom and awaiting entry, received further disconcerting news this week when it was confirmed that they were barred from access to domestic inter-provincial buses.
The ban was confirmed by a spokeswoman from the Thai Transport Company which is a state enterprise in Thailand under the auspices of the Ministry of Transport.
Officials here are understood to be working closely, at this time, with the government’s Covid 19 emergency centre under the state of emergency declared on March 26th.
Current requirements state that any bus traveller must prove their Thai nationality by presenting a Thai identity card. A passport will not be accepted.
It is difficult to understand the reasoning for this ban as Thailand is now approaching three weeks without a confirmed case of local transmission and foreigners have been denied entry to the kingdom since April 4th except for those limited numbers who have recently entered into 14 days quarantine.
Famous temple for Thai nationals only
There was also further unease this week when a famous temple in Bangkok and popular with tourists, the Wat Pho temple in Phra Nakhon District, known for its reclining Buddha, posted a sign outside which said the entry was reserved for Thai people and that foreigners were not allowed.
A sign photographed and published by popular blogger Richard Barrow displayed at the temple read: ‘Ony Thai People. Now not open for Foreigners’.
Later, a spokesman for the temple confirmed the ban but explained it was because they normally charge foreigners ฿200 for entry and the temple is currently being refurbished so there would be nothing to see.
For balance, it is also worth noting that during this crisis in many cities and communities, Thai temples have been a valuable place of refuge and substance for other foreigners stranded within the kingdom.
Indeed it is reported that this still remains the case.
Thai mother has not seen her 2 daughters in 4 months
In the meantime, a Thai mother in Khon Kaen is feeling the pain of the continued closed-door policy to foreigners who are family members and relationship partners of Thai nationals.
She is like thousands of others except Waratchaya Uawiriyanukun is not just pining for her husband but her two daughters, the youngest of whom is only five.
She has not seen the pair in four months.
In her frustration, she has taken action and set up a Facebook group of her own and is desperately trying to create awareness of her family’s story.
Only foreigners with work permits can enter Thailand
All she knows right now is that only foreigners with work permits may apply to enter Thailand and even then only if it is an especially urgent case and approval is at the sole discretion of officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok.
Representations are being made by foreign ambassadors and the ministry itself has promised to look at the case of foreigner relationship partners later after the repatriation of Thai nationals has been completed.
Foreigners and families can only now wait patiently for the doors to Thailand to open up again
For now, there is just a tedious and painful wait.
The families are hoping that there will be some relaxation in the blanket ban on inbound passenger flights next month but they are under no illusion that Thailand intends to control its doors for the remaining portion of the year as matters currently stand.
The best prospect right now appears to be the commitment by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to look at this situation again and to address it with some particular measure or arrangement to allow these family members back to Thailand
Large community that is positive and good
The size of this community extends to hundreds of thousands around the world both in Thailand and in foreign countries, many of them western.
It is the nucleus of a growing and powerful Thai diaspora.
The number of foreigners stranded outside the kingdom right now is in the thousands and may well be in the tens of thousands.
True nature of Thai Foreigner relationships and families revealed by this ongoing crisis
Often misconstrued with outdated stereotypes, the true nature of this community has been exposed by this crisis and the heartbreak it has caused.
If there is any silver lining, it is that the picture that is emerging is one that is extremely positive and good.
These are dedicated, constructive and loving relationships that greatly benefit Thailand and its economy.
Young UK man faced a harrowing decision in March – to be with his dying mother or his family in Thailand
A young UK family man with a wife and two children in Thailand was forced in March to make a hard and painful choice.
His mother was dying in the UK and he desperately wanted to be there for her passing.
At the same time, his Thai wife and two young children needed his presence as the deadly pandemic stoked fear throughout the country leading to the crisis.
‘I basically made a decision to come back to England and I have to live with that’ says UK man
Vince Banas made the call.
He decided to fly back from Bangkok to Heathrow Airport to be with his mother. He calculated that he could be back in Thailand with his young family in a matter of weeks. He calculated wrong.
The upheaval in the young couple’s life, also, to make matters worse, included Vince losing his job.
Last week, stuck in the UK, he expressed his frustration but at the same time was trying hard to be philosophical about his lot.
‘I find it too upsetting, yeah, so I try to keep my distance and just wait. Cause I know my little girl asks for me a lot, yeah, I basically made a decision to come back to England and I have to live with that.’
Before this catastrophe, many foreigners living in Thailand led quite an extraordinary life
Before this catastrophe, foreigners living in Thailand had enjoyed a rather extraordinary lifestyle particularly those who could earn a western salary combined with the relatively lower cost of living in Thailand.
For that group, life involved moving about the world from work or between their families in their home countries and Thailand.
The nature of this emergency had hit these people extremely hard.
Thai wife expresses her frustration: ‘There’s no money coming in, it all happened at once’
For Vince’s wife in Thailand, the situation as weeks run into months, is becoming surreal. She expressed her frustration when interviewed on a recent visit by a TV crew from the Chinese TV news channel CGTN.
‘It’s like I’ve reached my limit and there’s nothing I can do. His mom got very sick, he was fired and now he’s unemployed,’ she divulged. ‘There’s no money coming in, it all happened at once.’
True nature of these relationships thrown into relief by the crisis but also a deep sense of loss
The closeness of Foreigner Thai families and relationships revealed during this crisis is touching.
It shows their true nature which is not so surprising since the traditional nature, culture and love of family in Thailand is what draws many western foreigners to the country in the first place.
This is why the current predicament, no matter how understandable and justifiable the situation is from the point of view of authorities, is causing such anguish among those parted on both sides of the world.
The loss of the right to be with your family or loved ones is a heavy burden for all involved no matter how grave the crisis or the threat from the Covid 19 virus.
UK man, who has not met his newborn son, strives to get the message out to the world and authorities
Barry Mutch is a UK man and an active member of two Facebook groups (see links below) set up for foreigners and Thai partners to communicate with each other during this hard and bitter time.
Both social media groups now have thousands of members between them.
It was Barry who reached out to both Thai and foreign media to help bring attention to the story.
A picture of the UK man, who works offshore and normally lives in Thailand, speaking online with his newborn son who he has not even met yet, has been widely circulated.
Barry left for work in March, he missed the birth of his son, the most important day of his life
In March, Barry set off for Oman to work for five weeks. He thought he’d be home in time to be with his wife Benyapat for the birth of the couple’s son.
Benyapat also runs a restaurant in Hua Hin while Barry works offshore. It’s not unusual. Many Thai women who marry foreigners are also self-employed business people.
‘It’s the most important day of my life and I wanted to be there for it,’ he explained from the UK where he is waiting patiently but anxiously to be reunited with his wife and newborn son.
‘That wasn’t to be so I’m just eagerly waiting now to see when I can go back to Thailand.’
Wife had to drive herself to the hospital to give birth – ‘After I gave birth, I was so stressed, I would just cry’
For now, Barry must make do with daily video chats as he attempts to bond with his little son and support his wife who he has not seen for nearly three months, from afar.
Benyapat has had to deal with the birth of her son and life after, on her own, while also running a business in the seaside resort city of Hua Hin in southern Thailand popular with foreigners.
‘To be alone in the car on the way to the hospital is not right. He was meant to be there in the delivery room. After I gave birth, I was so stressed, I would just cry.’