Expats in Thailand now fearing an explosion of xenophobia

Published:  13 Jun at 6 PM
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Tagged: China, Thailand

Is anti-foreigner racism in Thailand getting out of hand?

One of the smartest ever slogans used to attract Western visitors seems now to be looking more than slightly tarnished. The ‘Land of Smiles’ became a favourite with both Western tourists as well as Westerners who chose to retire in its sun kissed, affordable resorts and small towns. Many are still resident and have acquired Thai wives and families or are part of long-established expat communities across the country, from its southern islands to its more traditional northern cities.

The north was the first to feel the grip of the pandemic, believed to have been brought in via the numbers of daily flights packed with Chinese package tourists from Wuhan itself which, by that time, was struggling to cope with its own massive outbreak. The city of Chiang Mai was soon closed down with all inbound flights cancelled and, as infections spread south, the local government moved to contain the hospitalisations and tragic deaths. As a result, the pandemic was all but stopped in its tracks in a relatively short time, whilst world leaders in the West underestimated its effects and prevaricated as how to respond.

Infections in Thailand’s northern regions were low and mostly involved the Thai community and expat workers from neighbouring countries. However, as is usual in times of trouble, politicians took advantage of the situation and blamed the country’s mostly white expat community, with one minister referring in public to ‘dirty farangs who never shower’ and suggesting an expat who’d refused his offer of a mask should be deported. At that point, fear of the virus amongst Thai nationals took over, and the increasing signs of racism are now commonplace. As a result, local English language social media is now taking full advantage of the situation, highlighting the xenophobic comments by officials. Expats who’d lived long-term in the country are starting to worry, with their concerns exacerbated by lockdowns and curfew rulings.

A new report now describes one long-stay expat journalist’s experience when he attempted to visit one of Thailand’s most famous Buddhist temples and was refused entry. Bangkok’s Wat Pho is the home of a world-famous, massive effigy of the reclining Buddha, but the new sign at its entrance doesn’t glorify the founder of this faith. It reads ‘ Only Thai People - Now Not Open for Foreigners’, with Western expat Buddhists as well as the expat community in general now outraged by the sign’s racist implications.

When approached, a worker at the temple said it was a new regulation, a statement confirmed later by an official who insisted it was legal to ban foreigners and blamed the pandemic as the reason for the ban. The official line came shortly afterwards, stating that renovations were being done inside the temple and the notice was for safety reasons. Online comments pointed out that the temple was already charging foreigners 200 baht to enter whilst Thais entered for free.

It now seems it’s not just Western Buddhists who’re being seen as not wanted for whatever reason, as a report from the northern city of Chiang Mai has revealed a government-owned interprovincial bus service is also refusing to transport foreign passengers. Online comments suggest the pandemic is again being used as an excuse for yet another demonstration of blatant racism.
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