Dilemma for Thai Workers Amidst Conflict in Israel

by Sophia Chen
Thai Workers Israel Conflict

As the violence erupted from Hamas incursions into Israeli territory along the Gaza Strip border, Thai agricultural workers found themselves embroiled in the conflict. Sharing the tragic fate of many Israelis, these workers were subjected to kidnappings, fatalities, or forced to escape for safety.

Since the hostility began, a considerable number of the 30,000 Thai laborers in Israel have chosen repatriation via government-chartered flights. However, a significant portion remains, drawn by the promise of higher earnings than they could achieve in Thailand.

The plight of these workers intensified as reports emerged of at least 23 Thai nationals being seized by Hamas, the governing body in Gaza. This marks them as the most substantial group of international captives under Hamas. With dozens unaccounted for and 32 reported deceased, the severity of the situation has escalated.

A grim testimony to this tragedy was presented at the U.N. by the Israeli ambassador who, despite facing criticism from Thailand for insensitivity, displayed a video alleging to show the execution of a Thai worker by a Hamas militant.

Families in Thailand are left in anguish, with the mother of Natthaporn Onkeaw, a young worker abducted by Hamas, fervently hoping for her son’s safety. Meanwhile, the story of Kong Saleo, another purported captive, has spread across social media, amplifying the fears for these workers’ well-being.

Economic Imperative Over Personal Safety

The lure of higher wages in Israel continues to attract Thai farm laborers and others from Southeast Asia, a trend that began after the first Intifada. Despite the dangers, the financial benefits remain a powerful incentive, with some workers earning up to eight times more than they would at home.

While Israel has been scrutinized for the subpar conditions faced by these workers, the recent promise of additional benefits and extended visas may entice many to stay in the face of adversity.

Response and Assistance Efforts

In response to the crisis, Thailand’s Prime Minister has engaged in diplomatic dialogue with his Israeli counterpart, urging assistance for the Thai hostages and encouraging nationals to return home. Parallelly, Thai officials have sought to negotiate with Hamas through intermediaries in Iran, though their efforts are complicated by the ongoing conflict.

Volunteer networks in Israel have mobilized to assist the Thai workers, providing emergency evacuation, food, aid, and support in reconnecting with their families or securing new employment.

Despite the offerings and the critical need back home, the harsh reality of the conflict has persuaded some, like Siroj Pongbut, to prioritize safety over income and return to Thailand.

As the international community watches, the stories of these workers underscore the broader human impact of the conflict, revealing the tough choices faced by migrant laborers caught between economic necessity and the imperatives of survival.

This article includes contributions from Big Big News correspondents David Rising in Bangkok and Julia Frankel in Jerusalem.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Thai Workers Israel Conflict

What is the current situation of Thai workers in Israel?

Thai agricultural workers in Israel are caught in the crossfire of the conflict with Hamas. While over 7,000 have been evacuated, many remain due to the higher wages offered in Israel, despite the risk to their safety. Reports indicate that at least 23 Thai nationals have been abducted by Hamas, with more possibly unaccounted for and 32 reported killed.

How has Thailand responded to the crisis involving its citizens in Israel?

The Thai government has arranged evacuation flights for its citizens, and Thailand’s Prime Minister has discussed the crisis with the Israeli Prime Minister, pressing for assistance with hostages. Additionally, a Thai parliamentary delegation visited Iran to speak with a Hamas ally about securing the captives’ safe return.

What challenges do Thai workers face in Israel?

Thai workers in Israel often contend with challenging conditions. Human Rights Watch has reported that they are sometimes housed inadequately, paid below minimum wage, forced to work long hours, face unsafe working conditions, and are denied the right to change employers. Despite these issues, the promise of higher wages compared to those in Thailand compels many to stay.

What assistance is being provided to Thai workers in Israel?

Israel has promised to extend work visas and offer bonuses to attract foreign workers, including Thais, back to evacuated areas. On the ground, volunteers and NGOs are providing emergency aid, reaching out to the families of the missing, and assisting those who have fled the violence to find new employment or return home safely.

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SarahJ November 3, 2023 - 1:35 pm

theres a typo in the section about the thai parliamentary delegation, should be ‘any releases had been complicated’ not ‘had had’.

Julia Simmons November 3, 2023 - 4:31 pm

Just read through, can’t imagine the fear those workers and their families must be feeling right now.

AlexP November 3, 2023 - 6:02 pm

The part about the bonuses Israel is offering…seems like they’re trying but is it enough to make up for the risk these workers are facing?

TomK November 3, 2023 - 10:53 pm

i think the international community needs to step up, this is beyond just an israel-hamas issue it’s a humanitarian crisis.

Mike Randal November 4, 2023 - 5:35 am

really intense stuff happening over there, it’s crazy to think about choosing between safety and pay like this.


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