A Swedish Thai couple drove 700 kms on the 19th of March last to enter Laos near Nong Khai to apply for Michael Lundin’s Non-Immigrant ‘O’ visa having been advised by the Immigration Bureau in Prachinburi. Michael had returned from Sweden in January 2020 on a tourist visa and ironically, if he had not been so conscientious about keeping his visa status legitimate, he would still be living in Thailand with a valid visa until September 26th due to a series of visa amnesties later extended to tourists still in the Kingdom who arrived after January 1st 2020.
A 52-year-old Swede is stranded in Laos and can find no way back to his wife of eleven years and his life in Thailand after both were separated without warning at the border on the 23rd March. Michael Somsri Lundin was separated from his wife, 57-year-old Thanaphan, as the couple attempted to cross back to Thailand after he had been granted a Non-immigrant ‘O’ visa earlier the same day in Vientiane. On the 14th of May 2007, Michael lost his wife in Sweden after 11 years of marriage. Now, the middle-aged man fears he will lose the love of his life all over again.
He’s one of many thousands of stranded foreigners still locked outside Thailand but the story of this broken-hearted Swede, lingering in Laos this week, should be heard to highlight the need for the Thai government and all those in authority to uphold Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified by Thailand in 1948, the kingdom being among the first countries to sign.
It’s not even a matter of human rights, any fair-minded person with a sense of honour or compassion should see clearly that this, no matter what the emergency is, is something that both can and should be addressed.
Thailand is addressing the problem
In fairness and for balance, Thailand is addressing the issue and great credit should be given to the current, ongoing influx of foreigners to their homes and loved ones in the kingdom against a backdrop of the threat from the virus.
In the meantime, the hardship continues for the thousands of foreigners still stranded outside the country even as the outlook is looking a little more optimistic as the system adopted by the government is now, gradually, bringing in more foreigners with Thai wives, work permit holders and others with valid long term links to the country, that for all its faults, many foreigners continue to love and wish to live in.
Lack of processing capacity in the system for control and quarantine still leaves thousands waiting
The problem right now is the limit on the numbers who can enter, caused primarily by a lack of processing ability in Bangkok including a limited number of hotel bedrooms within the alternative quarantine scheme and repatriation flights.
The current daily limit is reported to be 200 foreigners per day although the total capacity between foreigners and Thai returnees was last month reported to be 600 passengers per day.
Despite all this, the situation is improving with a noticeable rise in the levels of assistance and cooperation being received by foreigners from the relevant Thai embassies around the world.
Thai Airways also being deployed
Thai Airways, facing a critical court hearing on August 17th and with all scheduled flights grounded for the foreseeable future, is now operating special once-off flights out of Bangkok and returning from key capital cities with both Thai nationals returning home and foreigners abroad, availing of the chance to reenter the country having been granted a certificate of entry on approved flights coordinated by Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok.
The cost of tickets on these flights are at a premium even for Thai nationals with some foreigners being forced to purchase business class tickets to get back to Thailand as quickly as possible as Thai passengers are given priority
Heartbreak for foreigners continues
Yet, the heartbreak continues.
One overlooked group of foreigners are those who have in the past been regular travellers to Laos and Cambodia to renew visas and reenter Thailand through land border crossings.
They exist also in large numbers and the stories are just as compelling in spite of the relatively short distance from Thailand.
One of these is Michael Somsri Lundin who has been happily living with his wife, Thanaphat Somsri, in Prachinburi province since 2008. The couple have been married since 2011.
Swede is not a wealthy man but has found a good wife, love and peaceful life in Thailand
Michael is one of the large number of foreigners who came to Thailand looking for love and found it in the quiet and peaceful surroundings of a Thai village.
He is not a wealthy man but he leads a happy life tending to the couple’s garden and is the appointed driver for monks at the local Buddhist temple.
His wife Thanaphat is kept busy taking care of her elderly father who is confined to bed. She speaks neither English nor Swedish but Michael has learned to communicate in Thai with his wife and those who have gotten to know him in their village in the Kabin Buri district of Prachinburi.
Michael came to Thailand after he was introduced to Thanaphat by a friend in Sweden. ‘She is the reason and I took my chance to build a new life with her. Me and my Thai wife have been together for over 11 years.’ he explained this week.
His wife Thanaphat told our reporter that her husband is not a wealthy man but a good one who lives to help others and is well-liked in their village.
Returned to Sweden in 2018, had just returned to Thailand in January to be reunited with his wife
Michael had to return to Sweden at the end of 2018 and it was not until January 2020 that he was able to return to be with his wife. He entered the kingdom, at that time, on a tourist visa.
So, on March 19th, the couple headed off on a 700 km journey to Nong Khai where they left their car at a tourist facility at a rate of ฿100 per night and crossed the border on a tour bus from Nong Khai at ฿20 each.
In Laos, they attended the Thai Embassy on Friday the 20th of March. Michael explains that the couple had already made plans to go into quarantine on their return home.
They had heard reports about a potential state of emergency as well as ongoing restrictions on inward travel during that week.
Couple were conscientious about adhering to the law and planned to quarantine on arrival in Thailand
Michael had visited the Prachinburi Immigration Bureau office and was advised on the best course of action to regularise his situation to properly comply with Thailand’s strict immigration laws.
‘Me and my wife had plans to self-quarantine on the 23rd of March together, we did not travel by bus or train, we had our own car, the safest way for everyone. But it did not happen,’ says Michael this week from his hotel in Laos where he has been living now for the last 4 months waiting for Thailand’s door to reopen for him.
That week, plane flights from a range of countries had already been subject to stringent controls.
Embassy in Vientiane, Laos told the couple to come back on Monday the 23rd March for the visa
On Friday, March 20th, they were told by the embassy that they would have to return on Monday the 23rd March to collect his visa. This he did and was granted a three-month Non-Immigrant ‘O’ visa valid until 19th June.
Michael had been worried about the prospect of the border closing but was informed by an official and by a Royal Thai Embassy email that this would not happen until Wednesday, March 25th, the day the state of emergency was declared and was to come into effect a day later on March 26th.
The happy couple arrived at the Lao-Thai border crossing on Monday 23rd to re-enter Thailand when they were confronted with a shock. Michael was barred from entry despite what he had been told. The border was closed that day.
The couple pleaded their case but there was nothing to be done.
His 57-year old wife, Thanaphat, driven to tears, had to make her way back to the car park alone and drive the 700 kilometres back to their home in Prachinburi.
Wife waiting in hope that Michael can cross back into Thailand at some point in the future
This week, she told the Thai Examiner that she is waiting in hope to be able to go north and collect her husband at the border crossing. She has even tried to ring the immigration office to see if something can be done.
Since then, the only contact with her husband is through her smartphone, like so many other couples set apart because of the virus crisis, on Facebook’s Messenger app.
She now tends to his garden for him and the couple have to scrimp and scrape to pay Michael’s hotel bill in Laos where the food is more expensive than in Thailand.
At present, the Swede is clinging to the hope provided by a letter from the Royal Thai Embassy in Laos which says that officials are looking into his position to find a way around the problem.
Swedish man is haunted by his past and the traumatic loss of his former wife in Sweden
Michael is haunted by his past and the very reason he came to Thailand.
On the 14th May 2007, he lost his previous wife in Sweden after 11 years of being happily married together. He fears now that the new love he found in Thailand has already been taken away from him again within a similar time frame after living happily together.
‘Prior to this, I lost my former wife 14th of May 2007 when she died at the age of 39 after 11 years of marriage and she was in her early stage of pregnancy. So my feelings today are similar to the day I lost my former wife. Me and my Thai wife have been together for over 11 years,’ he told the Thai Examiner this week from Laos.
Michael originally comes from Hudiksvall which is 300 kilometres north of Stockholm.
Cannot consider paying for expensive quarantine package due to his depleted finances
The exiled Swede has said that paying for the alternative quarantine scheme ‘may not be an option’ for him due to his finances and is currently contemplating just waiting until the borders reopen or even moving back to Sweden where he can wait it out.
However, even this is a problem.
He currently sees no way of leaving Laos.
Thailand reopened 37 border crossing points to facilitate trade on July 1st with many crossing over
Cambodian, Laotian and Burmese nationals have been allowed to enter Thailand for business and trade purposes.
From July 1st, Thailand began to allow traders carrying cargo to enter from neighbouring countries and reopened 37 border checkpoints for this purpose.
This was confirmed by the COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) spokesman, Dr Thaweesilp Visanuyothin. He said it was part of the country’s phased reopening programme.
In the last few weeks, foreigners with stock and business equipment from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos have been reportedly managing to cross the border into Thailand in higher numbers.
This is of little comfort to a tormented Swedish man who fears that he will again lose the love of his life.
Government in Thailand must stay vigilant and public opinion is against opening the borders to foreigners
In the meantime, the situation within Thailand, while it is opening gradually for select groups of foreigners, is also being carefully controlled by the government with senior medical experts warning of the danger of Thailand becoming susceptible to complacency leading to a dreaded second wave of infection.
Among them is Dr Prasit Watanapa of Siriraj Hospital’s faculty of medicine aligned with Mahidol University and a leading advisor to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
Dr Prasit, on Monday, warned that Thai people must become familiar and accept the ‘new normal’ for some time to come.
‘We can say that we are fulfilling our responsibility to society by letting them know the truth and suggesting how they can best prevent themselves from contracting the disease.’
Thai public opinion vehemently opposed to loosening border controls for foreigners entering
His comment comes as there are now persistent cases of the infection being detected among Thai returnees returning on state-organised repatriation flights from foreign countries with the first two cases over the weekend, being reported of foreigners using the alternative quarantine scheme testing positive for the Covid 19 virus.
The government has extended the state of emergency until the end of August and opinion polls show consistently that the Thai public is sternly in favour of keeping the country’s borders closed at this time.
Non-Immigrant ‘O’ visa has already expired
Apart from the anxiety of the wait and uncertainty over where he will end up, the Swede’s biggest challenge in the last week has been to source and pay for medication for his chronic diabetes condition.
Michael’s new visa, never used, has already expired, and was not covered under the government’s amnesty which applied only to tourist visas.
In fact, if Michael had not been so conscientious about complying with the immigration laws and remained in Thailand, his original tourist visa granted in January when he first arrived, would have been extended under the visa amnesty up to September 26th next without ever having to leave the kingdom at all.
It may be the first visa ever issued to cause its unfortunate bearer to be blocked from accessing the kingdom.