Asian workers are ready to return to Israel despite the fighting

Asian workers are ready to return to Israel despite the fighting 0

(Dan Tri) – Some Thais are willing to return to Israel to earn salaries many times higher than in their home country.

Previously released Thai hostages hug their newly freed compatriots at Shamir Medical Center in Israel (Photo: Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

When dozens of Thai hostages were released by Hamas after weeks of detention in Gaza, Panaphan Klongsuwan, 37 years old, booked a ticket back to Israel, where there is a serious labor shortage after the war broke out.

`Most employers double the salary for those who return,` an agricultural worker who just returned to Thailand from Israel on November 7 on leave told SCMP.

Thirty-nine of Panaphan’s countrymen were killed when Hamas attacked Israel, and dozens more were taken hostage.

`Opportunities don’t wait… banks don’t wait either,` he said, standing in his hometown of Phrae, in northern Thailand.

Efforts to escape poverty

Before the war, about 30,000 Thai workers registered to work in Israel with an income of about 1,420-1,700 USD/person/month, many times the income of farming in their home country.

Some Thais are still working underground, but the number of this group is unknown, including at least 4 hostages.

Asian workers are ready to return to Israel despite the fighting

A Thai agricultural laborer works in a field near the central Israeli city of Beersheba in 2021 (Photo: AFP).

Workers and NGOs say living and working conditions on farms have historically been difficult, with complaints of unpaid overtime wages and debts to pay workers.

But debts to buy houses, cars, school fees and filial obligations continue to push young farmers – living in remote villages with daily incomes rarely exceeding $10 – to leave.

The Thai government is discouraging its citizens from returning to the war zone, after Thai Foreign Minister Panpree Bahiddha-nukara spent weeks of tireless shuttle diplomacy negotiating the release of hostages and evacuating more goods.

`The government has spent a lot of resources to help Thai workers escape the war zone,` said Veerapong Injai, of the Phrae Labor Department in Mr. Panaphan’s hometown.

Sri Lanka can fill the gap

Israeli farms are mainly concentrated in the central and southern parts of the country.

But many Thais fled after the Hamas attack, while Palestinians were largely ostracized, leaving farms with a severe labor shortage as the harvest season approached.

The list of Asian citizens killed in the Hamas attack also includes 10 Nepalis and 4 Filipinos.

Asian workers are ready to return to Israel despite the fighting

Israeli soldiers carry a body in the Israeli village of Kfar Azza, near the security fence with Gaza, after a Hamas attack (Photo: New York Times).

In the context of Israel’s labor shortage, Sri Lanka can fill that gap.

About 20,000 Sri Lankan workers will soon travel to Israel in the hope of sending money back to the country whose economy is in tatters.

The Sri Lankan government also wants to benefit from remittances.

Since 2019, Sri Lanka has struggled to cope with a severe external debt crisis, high inflation, a widening fiscal deficit and a weakening currency.

“Sri Lankans prefer to stay and work in Israel… and the government discourages them from returning,” said Adhikari Jayaratne, President of the Confederation of Independent Public Interest Trade Unions.

Colombo’s decision has sparked debate in the country about the safety of migrant workers.

Punsara Amarasinghe, a scholar of international law and Israel-Sri Lanka relations, assessed that Israel is a `popular destination` due to labor export agreements between the two countries.

`They consider Israel a godsend because their right to work is protected,` Mr. Amarasinghe said.

Asian workers are ready to return to Israel despite the fighting

Natthawaree Mulkan (right), the only Thai woman held hostage by Hamas, in Tel Aviv after being released (Photo: Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

High risk, high reward

In Thailand’s northeastern province of Khon Kaen, the weeks after October 7 were difficult for the tiny village of Khok Samran, home to Natthavaree – the only Thai woman kidnapped by Hamas but released recently.

Natthavaree has worked in Israel for four years, her mother said, adding that she also has a son who works undercover in the agricultural industry in South Korea.

Boonyarin Srijun, Natthavaree’s 56-year-old mother, said: `They feel like they are no one in their homeland but are recruited by recruiters abroad, becoming the breadwinners of the family.`

As the village welcomed Natthavaree’s return, the village chief said it was no surprise that people from the Isan region were still trying to leave, even to Israel.

`We would rather find a way out of poverty than live as a beggar all our lives,` said village chief Shane Rienthong, a 60-year-old man who once exported labor to Israel, South Korea and Taiwan.

`We go abroad to work because we have no education,` he said.

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