A woman buys food next to a rack of face masks for protection against the coronavirus for sale outside a canteen in Bangkok on Aug. 11. (Photo: AFP)
Thai authorities have announced that more than 3,000 foreign teachers, most of whom are Catholics from the Philippines, will be allowed to re-enter the country as authorities continue to ease border restrictions on foreign workers from across Southeast Asia.
“They are teachers who had previously taught in Thailand but [have been] unable to return to Thailand,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
An estimated 18,000 Filipinos work in Thailand, according to the Philippine embassy in Bangkok, with many of them teaching in schools, working in hospitals or working as salespeople in shops.
Filipinos are widely prized for their superior English-language skills in Thailand, where English remains little understood and spoken by most locals despite years of learning it in school.
Many Filipinos decide to work in Thailand because they can earn relatively high wages and send some of their earnings back home to help their families.
However, there has been some pushback in Thailand against letting people from countries like the Philippines enter the kingdom.
Thailand has been held up as a success story in fighting Covid-19 with fewer than 3,300 confirmed cases of the disease and 58 deaths. However, infections have been soaring in the Philippines with 144,000 recorded cases and over 2,400 deaths.
A prominent daily newspaper, Thai Rath, responded to the news that the first batch of the some 3,000 Filipinos allowed to re-enter Thailand arrived this week with a controversial headline, “165 Filipino teachers have just arrived in Thailand from the land of Covid-19.”
The Philippine embassy in Bangkok took issue with the headline, expressing “deep dissatisfaction” with its implied message.
“The characterization is inappropriate, insensitive and unhelpful at a time when all of us, brothers and sisters in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), are closely cooperating to deal with the new and unforeseen challenges brought about by the coronavirus,” the embassy said in an open letter.
Thai officials hastened to reassure the public by saying that all arrivals from the predominantly Catholic nation will be screened before they can enter to resume their work in Thailand.
“Please rest assured that although the outbreak situation in the Philippines is severe, everyone will be thoroughly screened,” a government spokesman said.
Many Thais have expressed support for the Filipino teachers by condemning other Thais with overt xenophobic attitudes. “Ignorance is an ugly beast,” one commenter noted on social media.
A degree of weariness against foreigners has been evident in recent weeks in Thailand, where some locals suspect them of being potential carriers of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.
Last week the organizers of Midnight Marathon Bangkok 2020 announced that they would bar foreign nationals from participating in the upcoming sporting event, including those that have been staying in the country since before the pandemic.
However, they have since backed down in the face of widespread outrage, issuing a statement of apology. “Offending [the foreign expat] community is the last thing we wanted to do,” said Boonperm Intanapasat, director of the event. “We love athletes of all nationalities.”