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Israel-Hamas war prompts thousands of Thais to flee

TEL AVIV: Along with thousands of fellow Thai agricultural workers, Pornchai Somnuan has fled the fields to return home as Israel’s war with Hamas rages in the Gaza Strip.

When Hamas gunmen attacked Israel on Oct 7, farmhands who had travelled thousands of kilometres to work close to the Gaza border found themselves on the front line.

In all, 34 Thai nationals were killed and 19 wounded, while 24 others were taken as hostages back to Gaza, according to Thai officials.

The toll sparked fear among many of the 30,000 Thais working across Israel, with Pornchai and many of his friends seeking help to leave.

“My family wanted me to go back. They’re concerned,” the 27-year-old told AFP in a Tel Aviv hotel, from which diplomats were facilitating evacuation flights.

“I have seven friends. Four have returned, so there are three left,” he added.

REPATRIATION EFFORT

Boxes of Thai noodles and packs of bottled water were waiting at the door of a room used to process the details of those seeking to leave.

Naruchai Ninnad, deputy head of consular affairs at Thailand’s foreign ministry, flew in to support the evacuation efforts.

“Our main priority is to get back as many Thais as possible who needed to be repatriated,” he said.

Bangkok has organised dozens of flights to repatriate around 7,500 people, while some 1,500 others have made their own way home, Naruchai said.

“We do not force them to go back. But we recommend them to go back during this time for their own safety, and of course they can return once everything is calm,” he said.

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