Thousands of Thais staying illegally in South Korea have turned themselves into the authorities there in hope of returning home from the virus-stricken nation, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced yesterday.
Nicknamed phi noi, or “little ghosts,” more than 5,000 have turned themselves in to immigration authorities and expressed their desire to return to Thailand due to the coronavirus crisis, ministry spokesman Cherdkiat Atthakorn said.
Of those, 136 of them are in Daegu, the southern city where many of the nearly 5,000 infections as of today are concentrated.
It’s still just a fraction of the 140,000 “little ghosts” believed to be in South Korea, where there is currently the largest outbreak of the coronavirus outside of China. Most work in agriculture as well as massage, commercial sex work and other industries. The number was disclosed last year by the labor officials after talks with their Korean counterparts.
According to Cherdkiat, Thais who voluntarily turn themselves in before June 30 will not face penalties nor be banned from re-entering South Korea. When they arrive home, Cherdkiat said, they will have to quarantine for 14 days.
South Korea has long been a popular destination for working overseas, and a cottage industry of recruiting agencies exists online, where tips are traded on finding work – and avoiding arrest.
Those looking for more information can contact the Thai Embassy in Seoul via +82 106747 0095 or Facebook page Royal Thai Embassy, Seoul.
Some of the “little ghosts” have asked for help returning home, and the issue has sparked debate online both in support and against them. While some say they should be rescued for humanitarian reasons, some netizens criticize them for illegally living in South Korea and say the government shouldn’t help them.
“Please do not let them come back, this is [what they] deserve also we don’t need the rubbish back to Thailand. Just be in Korea kaaa. Good luck,” Twitter user @Jamfatcat wrote.
“While do we need to pay our taxes to help these rubbish?” @Bq4E2P6EE5ZwGw4 wrote. “Because of them, foreigners have a bad attitude towards Thais … When there is an outbreak, they suddenly want to come back and spread more viruses into Thailand.”
Earlier this year, 138 Thais in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak began in December, were rescued by the government and returned to Thailand. All were quarantined 14 days.