PHUKET: The plan by the Phuket Tourist Police to build a shelter for foreign tourists who fall on hard times is laudable and long overdue, as evidenced by the number of hard luck cases whose travails have been chronicled in the Phuket Gazette for many years.
Exact details of the plan have yet to be revealed, but Ekachai Pramanakul, chief of the Tourist Police office in Phuket Town, says the shelter will provide temporary refuge for ‘qualified’ foreign tourists who would otherwise have to go without. (See story, current issue of the Gazette. Digital subscribers click here to download the full newspaper.)
It would be difficult to view this initiative as anything other than commendable in spirit, and thanks are due to Haad Thip for providing the funding.
The sight of unwashed vagrants panhandling, lying drunk or being stepped over as they lay unconscious on beaches and sidewalks around the island is depressing to all but the most callous of souls.
Despite the best efforts of the staff at the Mitr Maitree homeless shelter in Rassada, the harsh reality is that the homeless problem in Phuket continues to worsen. And strangely, Mitr Maitree under its charter can only accept Thais – not foreigners.
Allowing well-intentioned guests in Phuket to fall into a state of vagrancy through no fault of their own is reminiscent of the carnage on display in tourist places such as Goa, Miami, the Ibiza of the 1970s, and, most uncharacteristically, Thailand’s own Koh Phang-ngan after a full moon party. Such tableaux do not enhance tourism of the type quality destinations seek and are inconsistent with Thailand’s general image as a place of exceptional hospitality.
Homelessness of course comes in many forms and develops for a wide variety of reasons. There are even people who opt for the simulated freedom of vagrancy, chosing to become ‘urban hunter-gatherers’ rather than trying to keep up with the rat race of more conventional lifestyles.
But professional vagrants are unlikely to qualify for residence at the new Tourist Police lodgings.
Lt Col Ekachai says the facility will be earmarked for ‘good’ foreign tourists whose misfortunes are not self-inflicted, such as victims of crimes, scams, greedy temptresses, accidents or certain medical conditions.
There will be no room for ‘bad’ tourists. They will continue to dwell in less hospitable digs provided by other divisions of the police.
Tourist arrivals to Phuket continue to grow, with 3.5 million passing through Immigration at the airport last year, higher than ever before.
The island’s complement of 16 honorary consuls do their best with the thankless task of helping compatriots who get into trouble here, but many are already at the breaking point – and the number of cases continues to rise.
Properly run, the completed shelter should help to validate the Tourist Police motto: “Your First Friend”. We hope so, and see no reason why this initiative should not be given a chance.
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