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Analysis: Thai govt facing criticisms for being 'amateur' in handling hostage crisis amid Israel-Hamas war

A Thai mother tells CNA she is upset the government has not given her any updates about her daughter, who’s believed to have been held captive by Hamas since its Oct 7 armed assault in Israel.

Analysis: Thai govt facing criticisms for being 'amateur' in handling hostage crisis amid Israel-Hamas war

FILE PHOTO: Coffins carrying bodies of Thai migrant agricultural workers who were killed in an attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel, arrive at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand, October 20, 2023. REUTERS/Artorn Pookasook/File Photo

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BANGKOK: It has been more than a month since her daughter was captured by Hamas militants in Israel, and yet, Ms Boonyarin Srichan has heard little from the Thai government about the hostage situation.

There had been not a single call from any official to inform her that her daughter, 35-year-old Nutthawaree ‘Yo’ Munkan, is one of dozens of Thai workers reportedly held captive in the Gaza Strip.

It was only until Wednesday (Nov 8) night that a labour ministry official contacted her and told her to expect a call from the Thai embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel on Thursday morning. But there was none.

The Gaza Strip is at the heart of a raging war between its de facto governing body Hamas and Israel, following the militant group’s coordinated attack targeting civilian areas in Israel on Oct 7 that killed 1,400 Israelis.

The war is entirely foreign to 56-year-old Boonyarin, a villager in the rural northeastern province of Khon Kaen. She does not know what it is all about, but even more so, what has happened to her daughter.

“It has been a month already. I’m still puzzled as to who can help me…There has been no confirmation, no photo. All I’ve heard is from the news,” she told CNA.

“I don’t know if my child is still alive or if she’s one of the hostages. I have absolutely no clue.”

Ms Nutthawaree Munkan is among dozens of Thai workers reportedly held captive in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Boonyarin Srichan)

Following his visit to Egypt and Qatar, Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara revealed on Tuesday (Nov 7) that Thai hostages could be the first group to be released next. Last month, two American hostages were the first to be freed by Hamas.

CNA was able to verify with the Labour Affairs Office at the Thai Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, that Ms Nutthawaree is on the list of 25 Thai migrant workers held captive by Hamas, which had captured about 240 hostages, comprising Israelis and foreigners. 

But for the families of the hostages like Ms Boonyarin, a sheer lack of communication from the government means they are left in the dark about their loved ones caught in the bloody conflict, which has reportedly seen over 10,500 Palestinians killed in the military campaign launched in response by Israel.

Political observers say the Thai government is inefficiently handling the fallout of the Israel-Hamas war, which has killed at least 34 Thai nationals and injured several others. 

Former foreign minister and diplomat Mr Kasit Piromya told CNA the government should communicate with the hostages’ families directly in order to keep them informed of developments of the Israel-Hamas war as well as to respond to their queries or requests.

“This is about public administration, which requires skills and professionalism. If they handle it like amateurs, it’ll continue to be a mess just like how things are right now,” he said.


On Thursday, the foreign ministry reported an estimated 20,000 Thais remain in Israel while some 8,500 others have safely returned to their homeland.

Data from the labour ministry in September had shown that there were 28,364 Thai workers in the Middle East, with 91 per cent of them in Israel. Most of them came from Thailand’s rural northeastern region and took up jobs in the agricultural sector.

Although the successful repatriation is commendable, Mr Kasit pointed out there is not much clarity on what the government plans to do to ensure safety of the remaining Thai migrants amid concerns that the war could spread to other parts of Israel as well as the Palestinian territory West Bank.

Palestinians crowded together as they wait for food distribution in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Despite the Thai government’s plea for their return and promise of a compensation package, many of the Thai workers in Israel have chosen to stay on instead of disrupting their employment contract and losing substantial income.

According to Mr Kasit, this is partially a result of “insufficient” dissemination of information to the public regarding the situation in Israel and Gaza. 

He urged the Thai government to provide updates more regularly to ensure all Thais are well informed of new developments and risks in related areas.

“This is important. Close collaboration between spokespersons of the foreign ministry, the prime minister and media organisations must be carried out to a great extent,” he said.

For Thai workers returning home, the government has promised them a compensation of 50,000 baht (US$1,400) each on top of a low-interest loan capped at 150,000 baht.


News of Hamas’ attack and violence against Thai workers has triggered a response of largely shock and disbelief in Thailand.

On Oct 7, the day of the attack, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin posted on social media: “I condemn the attack on Israel, an inhumane attack that caused innocent people to lose their lives and get hurt. I’d like to express my deepest condolences to the government and the people of Israel. This incident shouldn’t have happened”. 

The Thai foreign ministry also issued a statement on the same day, asking all sides to avoid adding more tension to the conflict and denouncing the use of violence.

An Israeli soldier walks past a house that was damaged following a deadly attack by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, in Kibbutz Beeri, southern Israel, October 25, 2023. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Some observers view Mr Srettha’s message as a shift from Thailand’s passivity in its foreign diplomacy, which could have adverse effects on the Thai hostages.

Thailand-based analyst Ms Tita Sanglee pointed out in her article on The Diplomat last month that there was no mention of Gaza or Palestine in Mr Srettha’s statement, which she said could be read as Thailand siding with Israel and therefore hurt its ties with Arab nations.

However, political scientist Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak from Chulalongkorn University argued that the Thai government’s reaction to the killings and abduction of Thai workers has been somewhat too passive.

“The government can do a better diplomatic balancing act by condemning Hamas, drawing a distinction between Hamas and Palestinians, sticking up for Thai people while not offending or aggravating the situation. I think that balance can be struck,” he told CNA. 

“Right now, I think it's too light and too thin on the protection and the regard for Thai workers who have been killed.”

Although Thailand maintains its neutral diplomacy that supports the two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, Dr Thitinan believes the government under Mr Srettha’s leadership can be more vocal in condemning the violence against Thai citizens abroad without taking sides.

He agreed that Thailand should uphold balance in its foreign diplomacy but insisted that the government should not forget all the innocent Thais who have been killed, hurt and abducted or their distraught families. 


Despite possible dangers in Israel, a Thai worker who wishes to be known as Nick for fear of repercussions on his job, has chosen to stay on and continue working there.

The 33-year-old father-of-two works eight to 10 hours a day at a farm near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, earning between 45,000 and 70,000 baht a month – compared to less than 100,000 baht in a year from farming in Thailand. 

The new job is a rare opportunity for him to transform his life.

“I had never earned so much money from farming,” Nick told CNA.

Over the past month, he has grown used to harvesting chilies and bell peppers amid airstrikes. Sometimes, he would see rockets explode in the sky. Yet, he believes the area where he works is “still safe” and as a result, there is no need to go home.

What is more important is his family in Roi Et, northeastern Thailand. Nick said his overseas stint only began in March this year and if he returns home, a poor man like him would not be able to find a job that pays 70,000 baht a month.

“I want my family to be comfortable and pay off all the debts. I want life to be better,” he added. 

In Khon Kaen, Ms Boonyarin continues to wait for more news about her missing daughter, Yo. 

Four years ago, debt and poverty made Yo decide to leave home and her two young children for a career opportunity in Israel, where she worked in a potato packaging plant not too far from the Gaza Strip.

Ms Nutthawaree Munkan or Yo was reportedly kidnapped by Hamas militants on Oct 7, 2023. (Photo: Boonyarin Srichan)

By working overtime and taking up small jobs on the side at weekends, the 35-year-old has been earning about 50,000 baht each month. 

Her contract will end next year, when she plans to get married with her Thai partner she met in Israel, Mr Boonthom Phankong, and open a small food stall in Thailand with their savings. 

Today, nobody knows if they are still alive. 

Eye-witnesses told Ms Boonyarin that the pair were hiding in a bomb shelter when four Hamas militants entered the area and started firing their guns on Oct 7.

Startled, they added, Yo screamed and was later captured along with Mr Boonthom and another migrant worker.

The Labour Affairs Office at the Thai Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed with CNA that Mr Boonthom is also on the list of Thai hostages. 

“I just froze,” Ms Boonyarin recalled when she received the bad news. “I want the government to give me some updates, to call me and say ‘she’s one of the hostages’ or ‘she’s here’, to follow up. But they’re completely silent.”

Source: CNA/pp(kb)


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