11 July 2024

As casualties continue to rise in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, the impacts extend beyond Israelis and Palestinians to include Thai migrants working near the Gaza Strip. Thailand saw one of the highest foreign casualty rates in the Hamas attacks on Israeli communities. Consequently, an increasing number of Thais have registered for evacuation.

One of the Thai nationals interviewed by Thai PBS World, known as “Ball,” was evacuated from the so-called red zone after seeking help by posting about his situation on “X”. Before his evacuation, he and others risked their lives by going to the nearest Israeli military camp. He believed he was safe there but, unfortunately, he was reassigned to work on another farm in the north.

He recounted the moment when he saw the heaviest fighting during the Hamas attack, before being evacuated by the Israeli military.

“6.30am that morning (October 7th), we could see missiles in the sky. Some Thais, who had lived there for a long time, thought it was normal because they saw that often. Besides, the city that I lived in was not targeted at first, so we were not afraid of it. It was quiet for a while, then we heard gun shots on the ground, about 200 meters from my camp. Even the Thais who had lived there for a long time said that they had never heard gunfire like that,” explained Ball.

Ball explained that there were three camps in his location, each containing approximately 30 people. Everyone in the camp was constantly searching for news and warnings about a militant group, prompting them to seek refuge in a greenhouse near their camp. They remained lying on the ground, trying to stay as quiet as possible, when a group of armed Hamas members approached. Once the situation calmed, they returned to their camp, as instructed by the manager.

Ball described how hiding in the greenhouse, without knowing when the militants would return, was extremely unsettling. He and other Thais made the decision to seek refuge in a forest. Later, they discovered that a nearby Thai camp had been rescued by the Israeli military. In response, Ball and his colleagues tried to contact the authorities for assistance, but received no response. They then made the daring choice to run to a nearby Israeli military camp.

“We attempted to seek help from our employer, or anyone who could contact the military to come and pick us up from the camp, but no one responded. We stayed there late, as seen in the picture I posted. It was at that point that we decided to take a ride on a tractor together, in search of soldiers. At that moment, we had no choice but to take a risk,” he explained.

They managed to reach a military unit safely, but the relief did not last long, he said. He thought he and the others would be able to return to Thailand. They were, however, sold to another employer instead. They were transferred to another city in northern Israel, without them knowing where they were going.

“A driver dropped us off in Moshav, in the northern part of Tel Aviv, as I tracked along on google maps. It wasn’t an evacuation centre, it was an ordinary labour camp. It’s nothing like a shelter at all,” he told Thai PBS World.

Ball said he thought this was not right, so he decided to leave the camp and take a taxi to one of his friend’s places. He added that his colleagues had no option but to stay in the camp.

“The 5 other people had to accept their fate too. They are forced to work there. If you don’t work there, you will have no place to sleep. You will have no money to buy food,” he said.

Later, Pairoj Chotikasatien, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, clarified that the transfer of Thai workers to another employer is not regarded as human trafficking or the sale of labour, as critics have alleged. He emphasised that it is a method of evacuating Thai workers to a safer area, which may involve changing employers. Nonetheless, Thai workers retain the right to decide whether they wish to continue working.

Israel has been the second most popular destination for Thais working overseas, mostly on farms located in the southern part of Israel, according to a survey by the department of employment in Thailand.

Ball admitted that the primary motivation for working in Israel is the lure of money, despite the potential dangers posed by conflicts in the region.

“Money is my only reason. We get an average of 50,000 baht, or 1,384 USD per month. With that money, I can support the family. For some people, they have dreams. Others might have debts. Working in Israel gives them hope of sending money back home,” he admitted.

On October 12th, Ball was one of 15 Thais who safely returned home. In his interview with Thai PBS World, Ball urged all relevant authorities to guarantee that Thai workers being evacuated from Israel are provided with temporary shelter and are not transferred to another employer, as he was.

By Warissara Sae-han

The interview with Ball shares his tragic experience during the attack in Israel.