Thai workers question Israel’s safety following fatal Hamas attack

Picture courtesy of จักรพงษ์ แสงมณี - Jakkapong Sangmanee Facebook

The recent attack by Hamas in Israel, which caused the deaths of 24 Thai labourers, is leading to doubts about the suitability of Israel as a destination for workers seeking higher wages abroad. For over two decades, Israel has been a popular choice for Thai workers, particularly those in the agricultural sector.

Currently, around 30,000 Thai workers are based in Israel with 5,000 of them working near the conflict-ridden Gaza Strip. These workers are no strangers to the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and have occasionally been caught in the crossfire.

For instance, in May 2021, a Hamas rocket attack on a farm near the Gaza border led to the deaths of two workers and injured eight others.

In the latest episode of violence, Thai labourers have experienced one of the highest casualty rates, with 24 killed, 16 injured, and another 16 held hostage.

Amidst the chaos, approximately 7,000 Thai workers have registered for evacuation, with the first group arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport recently.

This number is expected to rise as the tensions escalate. The situation has left the families of the victims in a state of devastation, while those who are uncertain about the fate of their loved ones are deeply concerned.

Dream job

For many Thai job seekers abroad, the pursuit of dreams often involves tolerating hardship in exchange for high pay to help secure a better future for their families.

Nitthaya Sunthornchai, a 50 year old native of Mukdahan, shared that her younger brother, Sathit Promunart, chose to work in Israel because of the attractive pay which allows him to provide for his family, reported Bangkok Post.

Workers in Israel reportedly earn about 51,300 baht (US$1,413) per month, plus overtime. These salaries are often sent back home in full to pay off loans taken to cover travel and related expenses.

Many Thai workers in the agricultural sector take loans from the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives to pay for these costs under the Thailand-Israel Cooperation on the Placement of Workers (TIC) programme.

However, the number of Thai workers employed near the Gaza Strip has increased five-fold from 1,000 in 2017-2018 to 5,000 now.

Despite the requirement for employers to implement security measures and emergency preparedness for their workers, the father of one Thai worker survivor of an attack near the Gaza Strip is calling on authorities to review the placement of workers in the red zone.

Lieutenant General Somchai Virunhapol, a professor and chief adviser with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, advocated for the exploration of job opportunities in safer countries, and a focus on worker safety. He also urged the government to prepare for global economic challenges, including rising oil prices, if the fighting in the Middle East region continues.

Aranya Sakulkosol, chairwoman of the Thai Overseas Manpower Association, expects the placement of workers in Israel to be suspended for about six months due to the ongoing conflict. She also added that the most immediate concern is getting Thai workers to safety, possibly by evacuating them to neighbouring countries before repatriating them to Thailand.

In response to reports of Thais having to buy their own tickets home, Pairoj Chotikasathien, permanent secretary for labour, said that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has ordered state agencies to ensure the safe return of Thais from Israel, with all costs absorbed by the government, including those of illegal workers.

Sending Thai workers to Israel is to be suspended until Israel confirms the security situation is back to normal.

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Thailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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