Tel Aviv [Israel], November 4 (ANI/TPS): Nearly three-quarters of Thai workers employed in Israel in the agriculture sector remain in the country despite the nearly four-week-long war with Hamas and the vast majority of those who did leave want to return after the hostilities end, Thailand’s Ambassador to Israel said Thursday.
The remarks come while the leaders of the two countries spoke by phone and pledged continued cooperation after Thailand held direct talks with Hamas in Iran to secure the release of more than two dozen Thai hostages being held in Gaza.
“We are trying all means to secure our citizens and to make sure they are safe and sound as every country would do,” Ambassador Pannabha Chandraramya said in a telephone interview with the Tazpit Press Service.
She said that 7,000 Thai workers, who had worked on the southern border with Gaza or in the northern area near Lebanon, had left Israel over the last two weeks on evacuation flights, while 20,000 other Thai workers remain in the center of the country.
The ambassador noted that more than 80 per cent of those who left said they wanted to come back to Israel when the war ended. “They love to be here and be part of the society,” she said, adding that many who have been repatriated in Thailand had been working in border-area Israeli communities, which have been relocated as well.
Among foreign countries, Thai citizens were the second largest number of fatalities–right after the US–in the murderous Hamas Oct. 7 attack which killed over 1,400 Israelis and wounded thousands of others.
Twenty-nine Thai workers were killed in the terror attack, the ambassador said, while an additional 23 Thai nationals were among the nearly 250 people taken hostage by Hamas in Gaza, the single largest group of foreigners from a total of more than three dozen countries. Four Thai workers wounded in the attack remain in Israeli hospitals, including one who is still unconscious.
In one gruesome video of the attack, a Hamas terrorist can be seen decapitating a Thai agricultural worker with a garden hoe as he lay on the ground.
Another picture distributed on the Telegram messaging app shortly after the Oct. 7 rampage shows at least five men sitting in the dirt with their hands behind their backs, including a 26-year-old Thai worker identified by his parents as Natthaporn Onkeaw, in what appeared to be a bunker, as masked gunmen train rifles on them. His family, who live in a poor rural area in northeastern Thailand near the border with Laos, said he had been their main breadwinner, sending money home regularly after going to Israel to work on a kibbutz in 2021.
A video of another Thai worker man, who has been identified as 26-year-old Kong Saleo, is seen being dragged away in a chokehold by a terrorist in an avocado orchard.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Wednesday and expressed his sincere condolences over the murder and abduction of Thai nationals in the Oct. 7 assault by Hamas, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel is making every effort to free all the hostages including the citizens of Thailand, and noted that wounded foreign nationals, including the Thais, are receiving optimal care like all Israeli citizens. The prime minister also conveyed his appreciation for the Thai workers and their contribution to the economy and expressed the hope that many of those who have left would return,” the PMO statement added.
The Thai leader expressed his condolences on the loss of innocent lives, injuries and abducted civilians as a result of the conflict since Oct. 7 and conveyed his gratitude to Israel for facilitating the evacuation flights of Thai nations, according to a separate statement from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Israel started bringing in migrant workers in earnest after the First Intifada (1987-1993) after employers began to lose trust in Palestinian workers. Most came from Thailand, and they remain the largest group of foreign agricultural labourers in Israel today with nearly 30,000 workers.
Manual labourers from Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia seek work in more developed countries where there is a shortage of semi-skilled labour–at wages considerably higher than what they earn at home.
Some of the foreign workers along the southern border with Gaza who got caught in the Hamas rampage shared the same fate of their Israeli employers. Most were saved, but others were either killed injured or abducted by the attackers who did not distinguish between the nationality, sex or religion of their victims.
Last week, a three-member parliamentary Thai delegation held direct talks with Hamas officials in Iran in an attempt to secure the release of their hostages. The two-hour Oct. 26 meeting ended with a pledge that the Thais would be released “at the right time,” according to the head of the all-Muslim Thai delegation that went to the Islamic Republic.
Meanwhile, scores of Thai workers who were flying home this week converged on the Tel Aviv beachfront as they awaited their flights at a city hotel. Many snapped photos or shot videos of the Mediterranean as they talked to family back home on WhatsApp.
“I will be back,” said a 28-year-old worker, who gave his first name as Min. He had been working at a kibbutz in southern Israel over the last four years and was taking in the temperate evening air Thursday at sunset ahead of his Friday flight back to his worried family. “I like the country.” (ANI/TPS)