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Bringing Thai nationals home is a team effort

Maya Taylor

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Bringing Thai nationals home is a team effort | The Thaiger
PHOTO: MCOT
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As the world ground to a crawl thanks to Covid-19, things began ramping up at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with staff working tirelessly to help Thai citizens abroad get back home. MFA staff are based both in Thailand and overseas and are tasked with assisting Thai nationals during emergencies such as natural disasters or indeed, a pandemic, wherever they are. They will also repatriate their citizens back to Thailand when necessary.

The first repatriation flight originated in Wuhan, China, in February, epicentre of Covid-19 at the time. In an interview with the Bangkok Post, the director-general of the Department of Consular Affairs, Chatri Archjananun, discusses the logistics of repatriation.

“On Feb 4, we came under pressure to evacuate our citizens from the then epicentre of the outbreak. We sought permission from China and sent our staff and doctors by air. Meanwhile, our staff at the Royal Thai Embassy in Beijing drove 1,000 kilometres to Wuhan and did everything at the airport, such as checking in passengers and taking their temperature. It was a blessing in disguise because it was a learning curve and we have a good memory of this mission.”

For Thai nationals a bit further afield, the process is slightly more complicated and more expensive. Those living in Latin America for example, provided a challenge for the MFA.

“The flight from Latin America is expensive and complicated. With Covid-19, we could rarely see a way out, but we still managed to make it happen. Some (of those we repatriated) travelled from Latin America to Brazil to Mexico to Netherlands to Thailand. Others headed for Kuala Lumpur and crossed the southern border of Thailand. We have a lot of sympathy for this group because these flights are not free, except the chartered flight to Wuhan sponsored by the private airline.”

The MFA also works with various world carriers to ensure flights can be used to repatriate people in both directions.

“When India, Italy, and Russia chartered flights to evacuate their citizens, we asked them to bring Thais back. Meanwhile, when we repatriated our citizens from Sydney, we flew 300-400 Australians back home. We are working together during the crisis.”

The logistics of each repatriation mission involves communication between several different government ministries, including the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Public Health, the Immigration Bureau, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand.

“Each ministry sends its staff to clear up unresolved issues at the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration. If they remain unsettled, they will be forwarded to the premier. You can see we have streamlined hierarchy, expedited decision-making, and let information flow from a single source.”

Chatri says most Thai citizens working overseas don’t bother to register with the MFA and this makes record-keeping a challenge. However, as a result of last year’s elections held outside Thailand for absentee voters, officials estimate there are around 1.6 Thais living and working overseas. Requests for repatriation must take into account available space in state quarantine. To date, over 83,600 people have been brought back to the Kingdom, part of a daily limit of 600.

“Stranded tourists, the sick, and those whose visas will soon expire are the first group we bring back. Students, monks, and the unemployed are the second group. We also consider other factors, including health risks and fair quotas for all groups. However, no matter how hard we try, we can’t cope with the demand of hundreds of thousands of Thai workers in South Korea and Malaysia because we must help others as well.”

In the early weeks of the pandemic, a solution needed to be found for hundreds of thousands of Thai nationals returning from South Korea, where they had been working illegally.

“The South Korean government requires them to self-report, or they will be charged and blacklisted. This stance encourages them to come back. They have discussed with us the possibility of increasing the number of seasonal workers in the agricultural sector under contract. For instance, they can spend three or four months working there annually.”

Chatri says that despite the challenges involved, MFA workers are committed to helping both their fellow citizens and foreigner nationals return home, but that resources are limited.

“One of Thai returnees said her mother was dying, but the flight quota was already filled. We asked the airline to let her board the flight for emergency reasons to see her mother on her deathbed. She wrote us a thank-you letter, and we posted it on the wall. Some blame us for not picking up calls or using inappropriate words in reply, but we have chosen not to respond. In fact, we have limited resources, including staff.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Toby Andrews

    September 7, 2020 at 12:06 pm

    What do they want medals.
    This is not Dunkirk.
    They are paid to do this job, and not paid to brag about how well they do it.
    I lost all sympathy for them when they said they don’t pick up the phone and chosen not to respond.
    There are desperate Thais out there in the world and these well paid privileged Thai civil servants don’t pick up the phone.

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Teen near the Thai-Myanmar border tests positive for Covid-19

Caitlin Ashworth

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Teen near the Thai-Myanmar border tests positive for Covid-19 | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thairath

A Burmese teenager who lives near the Thai-Myanmar border tested positive for Covid-19. Now, Thai border patrol officers are tightening security even more to make sure Myanmar’s outbreak doesn’t cross the border and cause a second wave in Thailand.

The 17 year old Burmese boy tested positive for Covid-19 last week. Reports say the teen was in Myanmar’s Payatongsu district, about 5 kilometres from the Three Pagodas Pass checkpoint bordering Kanchanaburi. The teen started having symptoms on September 11 and tested positive on September 17.

Only around 13 people were reportedly in close contact with the teen and they are now in quarantine at a district school. Health officials suspect the teen was exposed to the virus from his uncle who had travelled to Moulmein, a large city near Yangon which had a spike in coronavirus cases. The uncle has been tested and is in quarantine, but his test results are still pending.

In another case, a 2 year old Burmese child tested positive for Covid-19 after leaving Thailand. A report from Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health Disease Control Department says the child most likely contracted the virus while travelling from Thailand to Myanmar around September 4 to September 10. The family travelled to Mae Sot and entered Myanmar through natural passageways. 2,635 people in Mae Sot tested negative for Covid-19.

Since Myanmar reported a surge in cases, starting mostly in the country’s Rakhine state on the western coast, Thailand has been increasing border patrol to make sure people are not entering Thailand illegally and potentially spreading the virus. Now that there are cases in some Myanmar border towns, Thailand checkpoints are on high alert.

The daily number of Covid-19 cases in Myanmar continues to rise. The country reported a total of 6,471 cases with 100 deaths and 1,445 recoveries, according to Worldometer.

In some border districts, police have placed barbed wire along the border to prevent people from entering illegally. Security has increased and dozens of migrants have been arrested in the past month for allegedly entering Thailand illegally. Even volunteers have stepped up to patrol the borders. No migrants arrested for allegedly crossing the border have tested positive for the virus.

Daily new Covid-19 cases in Myanmar

Teen near the Thai-Myanmar border tests positive for Covid-19 | News by The Thaiger

The daily number of Covid-19 cases in Myanmar continues to rise. As of September 22, the country reported 6,471 cases with 100 deaths and 1,445 recoveries, according to Worldometer.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Business

Struggling airlines to get reprieve through small loans, extension to fuel tax cut

Maya Taylor

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Struggling airlines to get reprieve through small loans, extension to fuel tax cut | The Thaiger
PHOTO: TAT News

Airlines in Thailand are being offered a financial lifeline, as the Government Savings Bank announces soft loans for carriers left struggling as a result of the current Covid-19 ‘disruption’. Nation Thailand reports that the GSB is offering the loans over a 60 month period, with an annual interest rate of 2%. Chairman Patchara Anuntasilpa says the proposal will shortly be put to Cabinet for approval.

Airlines have been left financially devastated by the fallout from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, with countries closing their borders, passenger numbers plummeting, and carriers forced to slash the number of flights on offer. The services available, including the food services, were also curtailed early on as a preventative measure but that restriction has since been lifted. The effect is being keenly felt by all the airlines in Thailand, with the Kingdom’s borders closed to nearly all international traffic since March.

In a further effort to ease the financial crisis faced by Thai airlines, the Excise Department says it will extend the fuel tax cut for low-cost carriers by another 6 months from the end of this month. Patchara, who also serves as director-general of the Excise Department, says the tax may end up being abolished completely. In normal times, taxation on aviation fuel generates around 1 billion baht a year.

Air Asia has also cut some of its ground costs by using airport buses to ferry passengers from a cheaper aircraft parking area, back to the terminals, foregoing the costs of the airport airbridges. Flights from Phuket to Don Mueang, for example, are now a full ‘bus’ service, sometimes adding an additional 15 minutes at either end for the loading up of the buses and the trip to the planes or the terminal.

It’s understood the excise tax collected since October 2019 totals 503 billion baht, down more than 6.5% on last year’s figure. Most of the income comes from oil or oil products, cars, alcohol, and cigarettes.

SOURCE: Nation Thailand

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Tourism

Phuket’s governor calls for help in restoring island’s economy

Maya Taylor

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Phuket’s governor calls for help in restoring island’s economy | The Thaiger
Shuttered businesses along Bangla Road in Patong yesterday

The governor of Phuket has likened the southern province to a “patient in a coma”, as he pleads for help to restore its devastated economy. According to a report in the Bangkok Post, Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew was addressing a Public Health Association forum, where he highlighted the economic crisis caused by the ongoing ban on international tourists. The island’s international airport closed in April, shutting off the supply of international tourists, and cutting off the flow of international money flowing into the island’s tourist economy.

The latest figures show that Phuket has lost over 400 billion baht since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The island’s economy is, either directly or indirectly, 90% reliant on a steady flow of international tourists, and has seen a massive tourist infrastructure boom over the past 20 years, including accommodation, tours, tour boats, tours buses and passenger vans, international shows, new roads, restaurants and rentals – all aimed at the many levels of traveller budgets.

Governor Narong predicts the province will face similar hardship next year, and is calling on the government to organise conferences and other events that will attract more visitors to the province.

“So far, the province has invited 15,000 village health volunteers in the south to travel and spend time in the province while today’s seminar is bringing in 10,000 attendees and followers and will relieve some of the hardship.”

Meanwhile, PHA president Prapat Thamwongsa, says the forum gives those attending the opportunity to share knowledge and advice on tackling the spread of disease, with presentations and competitions addressing all public health activities.

Phuket usually receives around 14 million visitors every year, with around 10-11 million arriving from outside Thailand. The airport usually welcomes up to 300 international flights a day but is now only receiving around 80 flights a day, since the ban on foreign flights started in April. Narong says an estimated 40,000 of the island’s workers are now unemployed, while those still employed have taken hefty pay cuts of anything from 20% to a hefty 90%. Less than 30% of the province’s hotels are currently open.

“Phuket is like a patient in a coma in ICU. So, it is necessary for all stakeholders to help restore Phuket as quickly as possible.”

The Cabinet recently approved a long-stay visa (the Special Tourist Visa) for tourists who wish to visit the Kingdom, although critics say the strict requirements, coupled with the extortionate cost of the mandatory 14 day quarantine, make it unworkable. The new visa is also insisting that travellers will have to arrive on restricted charter or private jet flights, adding further cost and restrictions.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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