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3,000 Foreign Teachers Set to Arrive in Thailand Amid Xenophobic Backlash

Filipino Teacher at Chulalonngkorn University Thailand Bangok

More than 3,000 foreign teachers, most of them from the Philippines, will be allowed to re-enter Thailand as the government continues to ease border restrictions on foreign workers from Southeast Asia.

“They are teachers who had previously taught in Thailand but (have been) unable to return to Thailand,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

About 18,000 Filipinos work in Thailand as teachers, nurses, salespeople, entertainers and other occupations, according to the Philippine embassy. Many choose to work here because they can earn relatively high wages and send some of their earnings back home.

There has been, however, pushback in Thailand against letting any foreigners into the country, especially from the Philippines, where coronavirus infections are soaring with 144,000 recorded cases and more than 2,400 deaths.

Thai-language newspaper Thai Rath stirred up a firestorm when it topped a story on the prospect of 3,000 Filipinos entering Thaialnd work with a headline that referred to the island nation as the “Land of Covid-19”.

The Philippine embassy took exception with the headline, expressing “deep dissatisfaction” with its implied message.

Thai Rath newspaper with headline “165 Filipino teachers have just arrived in Thailand from the land of Covid-19.”

“The characterization is inappropriate, insensitive and unhelpful at a time when all of us, brothers and sisters in the Association of South East Asian Nations, are closely cooperating to deal with the new and unforeseen challenges brought about by the coronavirus,” the embassy said in an open letter.

Thai officials scurried to reassure the public that all arrivals from the predominantly Catholic nation will be screened before they can enter to resume their work in Thailand and be required to enter 14-day quarantine.

“Please rest assured that although the outbreak situation in the Philippines is severe, everyone will be thoroughly screened,” a government spokesman said.

Many Thais have expressed support for the Filipino teachers by condemning other Thais with overt xenophobic attitudes. “Ignorance is an ugly beast,” one commenter noted on social media.

A degree of weariness against foreigners has been evident in recent weeks in Thailand, where some locals suspect them of being potential carriers of the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Last week the organizers of Midnight Marathon Bangkok announced that they would bar foreign nationals from participating in the upcoming sporting event, including those that have been staying in the country since before the pandemic.

While they have since backed down, the organizer of the Chiang Mai Marathon did the same thing only three days later.

The original version of this story first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.