Relatives of Thai nationals working in Israel speak to Thai media before their loved ones’ arrival from being evacuated from Israel by plane, at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Oct. 12, 2023. (Photo: AFP)
Twenty-one Thai nationals have been killed in the conflict between Israel and militant group Hamas, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said Thursday, up from the previous toll of 20.
"The update from last night is bad news that one more Thai died, the number rises to 21," he said.
The war was triggered by a bloody attack by Hamas and has left thousands dead with around 150 hostages taken.
There are approximately 30,000 Thais in Israel, mostly working in the agriculture sector, according to Thailand's labour ministry.
Fears are mounting over the fate of 14 Thai citizens who have been taken hostage.
Worried families gathered Thursday morning at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport to await the arrival of a commercial flight carrying 15 Thais, including many wounded.
Yanisa Thaweekaew, whose son Supipat Kongkaew has worked on an Israeli avocado farm since last year, said she hadn't slept in days.
"My son is everything to me. I was worried. He is the only son I have," she said.
"I cried every day knowing that he lived in the red zone."
Many of those being repatriated are farm workers from Thailand's poor northeast who had gone to Israel in search of vastly higher wages.
The mother and wife of Somma Sae-ja — a Thai man who moved to Israel two years ago to work in agriculture — were anxiously awaiting his safe return home after he was shot in the leg.
"I couldn't sleep last night, I was so excited and worried," his wife Nantawan Sae-lee, 30, said.
"We don't have much money so he went to Israel. He is a really good man."
Mhee Sae-ja, his 55-year-old mother, said she was "overwhelmed".
More than 5,000 Thais are seeking to return to the kingdom and diplomats are exploring potential sea and overland evacuation options.
Further Thai repatriation flights are due to leave Israel on Sunday and Wednesday next week.
Sawiang Paelin, 69, from Nong Khai, said her son was able to support his entire family by working abroad.
"No amount of money is more important than a person’s life," she said.