Seventeen Thai workers released from captivity by the militant Hamas group were greeted Thursday by family and friends, officials and journalists in an emotional homecoming at Bangkok’s international airport. The 17 are among 23 Thais freed so far, with six left temporarily behind in Israel because doctors said they were not yet fit to travel. Thai officials says another nine Thai hostages are still being held in Gaza.
Ratree Sampan, who traveled from the northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom, arrived early at the airport for the reunion with her son Buddee Saengboon.
“After the war broke out, I could not contact him,” said the 57-year-old Ratree. “For one month and 18 days, I assumed he was already dead.’’ “I waited for a miracle, and it happened. He survived,” she said.
There were about 30,000 Thai workers — mostly laborers in the agricultural sector — in Israel prior to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, when militants stormed through a border fence and killed hundreds of Israelis — and 38 Thais.
Israel responded with devastating airstrikes and a ground offensive that has killed thousands, and has vowed to crush Hamas’ military capabilities. A cease-fire has now held for seven days, and Hamas has released 81 hostages, mostly Israeli nationals but also others, while Israel has freed 180 Palestinian prisoners.
The Thais generally they come from poorer regions of Thailand, especially the northeast, and take the jobs in Israel because they can earn as much as five times what they would at home.
They started being recruited for such work several years ago to replace Palestinians who had been doing the same jobs. Since the war broke out, about 9,000 Thais have been voluntarily repatriated, but some have already said they hope to return to Israel because of the money they can earn.