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Foreigners stories of their journey back to Thailand as borders start to reopen

27 Jul 2020

Some foreign nationals with Thai work permits have finally managed to return after spending months stranded abroad due to Covid-19 lockdowns.

One of them was Shane Goodhew, the admissions manager at a Chiang Mai drug rehabilitation centre. In fact, he was in Australia for a one-week trip to celebrate his mother's birthday in March, when Canberra asked Australian nationals to return overseas as the coronavirus situation was beginning to escalate.

"It was a bit scary at the time because of the amount of [conflicting] information about the virus. I decided to follow the directions [Canberra's]," he said.

So Mr Goodhew flew back to Thailand before returning to Australia to pack his stuff and say goodbye to his girlfriend. "I just thought it would be a month or two before I got back," he said.

Unfortunately, in April, the Government suspended international flights to prevent Covid-19 from spreading. It wasn't until May 28 that the Foreign Ministry announced re-entry procedures for foreign nationals who have work permits or who have been granted work permits here.

They are required to obtain entry certificates (COE) and other documents including fit-to-fly certificates and insurance coverage. Upon arrival they have to undergo quarantine for 14 days at their own expense. 

Mr Goodhew said he contacted the Royal Thai Embassy in Canberra when, in May, the situation started to improve. 

"They helped me a lot. I understood that repatriating Thai nationals was their first priority. I was patient and waited for the right time. I asked when it came, and they sent me an email with all the information," he said. 

Unfortunately he failed to return because Thailand's Civil Aviation Authority decided to ban the entry of international airlines into the country until July 1. 

Mr Goodhew did, however, manage to get on a July 19 repatriation flight. He is now in quarantine under alternative state (ASQ). A 15-night stay in ASQ will cost between 30,000-104,000 baht, depending on accommodation level. It includes three meals per day and two tests with Covid-19. 

"I was happy to meet the lady who helped me to arrange my flight, and I am grateful for what [the staff of the embassy] did for me." "Be kind and respectful, have faith in the process. It will all work out." 

Family Meeting
Meanwhile, with the entry into force of the lockdown, Chris Owen, who runs a motorcycle rental business in Prachuap Khiri Khan, was away on business in the UK. He could not apply for a certificate of entry until late May. 

Unfortunately, he sorted out the paperwork and flew only to find out that his first flight had been cancelled from Aberdeen into London. "No hotels were open and there were no flights back to Aberdeen. I had to rent a car and drive back to Heathrow," he said. 

With the help of the Royal Thai Embassy in London, Mr Owen finally managed to board a repatriation flight on 15 July. He said it was the biggest feeling to be back on Thai soil. 

"You've got to keep pushing and pushing. Don't give up. I've got two young daughters here. That's the reason I had to come home," he said. 

He expressed concern regarding the availability of facilities for ASQ. There are enough facilities to accommodate 200 incoming foreign nationals per day, according to the Covid-19 Situation Administration Centre. 

'Stick to your pistols' 

Another foreigner who asked for anonymity said that when he received an offer to work in Chiang Mai, where he had lived for four years, he was teaching at an international school in Cambodia. At the beginning of this month he planned to fly into Chiang Mai from Phnom Penh, as his contract ended in June. 

However, since there were no flights due to the pandemic, he was forced to rethink his plans. 

"On July 15, I decided to travel overland from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. I took a taxi to the border at Poi Pet the next morning. Immigration officers were rude and aggressive — they didn't believe I could get into Thailand," he said. 

He showed them documents and they stamped him out of the country, reluctantly. The guard insisted, as he went to the bridge, that he should return. 

"Fortunately, I persisted until he let me 'go and try.' I can't come back anyway because I cancel my lease and leave my job," he said. 

He went to an ASQ when he arrived on July 16, and hasn't left his room since. He said he was glad to be home. 

"[To those who are hoping to return] I 'd say be patient and determined, be cool and rational, but stick with your guns," he said.

Source Bangkok Post