Homeless Foreigners on the Rise in Thailand

A homeless person in Bangkok. Image from Flickr user mikecogh (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A homeless person in Bangkok. Image from Flickr user mikecogh (CC BY-SA 2.0)

According to the charity group Issarachon Foundation, homeless foreigners are on the rise in Thailand. The group estimated that there could be 200 homeless foreigners in the country. Natee Saravari of the Issarachon Foundation observed that

In Pattaya we see them sorting through the trash in front of McDonald's for something to eat, and hanging out in front of restaurants asking customers for money

Paul Garrigan, a foreign resident in Thailand, surmised the possible reasons why some foreigners end up being homeless in Thailand:

Like lots of others before me, I mistakenly believed that my problems were due to my surroundings so living in an exotic place like Thailand would fix me. It didn’t. My life went into free-fall, and I’d almost certainly be dead now if it wasn’t for the help from Thai people and Thamrkabok Temple in 2006. I could easily have been one of the homeless foreigners in Thailand.

When we step off the plane it can feel like the normal standards do not apply. The fact that we don’t understand the rules of Thai culture gives us the false impression that there are no rules.

He urged foreign embassies to extend assistance to their nationals:

Homeless foreigners are human beings who are struggling in life. They should be treated with compassion and offered help. Foreign embassies and consulates should step in to provide safe accommodation and food until these people can be helped back on their feet or repatriated to their home country– they should definitely not end up in jail waiting for deportation.

But the head of the tourist police in Pattaya, Pol Lt Col Aroon Promphan, reported that foreign embassies are often reluctant to help the homeless foreigners:

I sometimes tell [embassy staff] that their citizen has some mental problem and they have no money left. I ask them what do they want us to do with the citizen. The answer I hear back is, ‘You don't have to do anything. We are not responsible for this kind of person.”

Many homeless foreigners reported by the charity group were either abandoned by their Thai partners or encountered visa and passport problems. But Casey Hynes reminded foreign residents that they could have taken decisive steps to avoid losing their resources:

Though the plight of homeless foreigners is unfortunate, one wonders why they didn’t take steps to mitigate these circumstances in the first place. It is possible for foreigners to buy condos themselves in Thailand, or lease land long-term, which would allow them to avoid relying on a wife or girlfriend for the proper documentation. And while visa applications and runs can be a hassle, it’s far less of a hassle than to let both visa and passport expire, leaving them with few options in their home and adopted countries.

Bangkok Blogger hoped that authorities would review local laws to provide more protection to foreigners:

No doubt these homeless foreigners were driven to drink by their circumstances, all of which were totally avoidable.

The article went on to say that foreigners receive little protection from the law in Thailand and a Professor at a University in the North East of the country is saying that laws need updating with respect to protecting foreigners rights.

Hopefully, the powers to be will also agree.

The Bangkok Post report generated interesting comments about the issue. For example, juggernaut mentioned that there is a “legal apartheid against foreign spouses” in Thailand:

Foreign residents (not tourists/ diplomats/ business visitors) are not well protected. Unlike US, etc, married spouses of Thai nationals have little freedom & rights. The few rights are unfairly conditional; cannot re-enter Thailand without prior, expensive pass-stamps. Stay is illegal if balance is below 40,000 THB per year. Permission must be requested each year, which is revokable any time for no good reason. Not the environment to start family as married couple. There's legal apartheid against foreign spouses. Permanent residence cards are highly elusive, expensive, conditional & easily revoked for no good reasons. Good luck all.

Banmebkk asserted that the Thai government has been kind and fair in dealing with homeless foreigners:

Thais are actually pretty kind with these homeless people, most police just ignore them. In most first world countries, the police would have detained and arrested the homeless with expired passports and start the process of sending them home.

onlyasking noted the various circumstances of homeless foreigners:

To view the problem in one dimension is wrong. There are people staying in Thailand from Europe that fled here to survive and which don't have any incomes. You have people that came to Thailand with money and have lost it or sqaundered it. You have people here that have very small incomes and can't survive back home but can survive here. You have people that have overstayed their visa with 15 years. All of them are however the responsibility of their home countries, not Thailand's.

upena believes the Thai government has no obligation to help all homeless foreigners:

Sorry folks, as an expat living in Thailand for the past three years, and visiting Thailand and working here since 1973, I have absolutely no sympathy for those that cannot support themselves. They knew the rules before they got here and it is not up to the Thai Government to support/help them. They need to contact family of seek assistance from their embassy/consulate.

Chem-Zam urged everyone not to wait for the government or a charity group in providing assistance when they encounter a homeless foreigner:

As a foreigner in Thailand, I understand how difficult to survive without resources and close relative in times of trouble financially. I think anyone can help any homeless foreigners without waiting for any charity works or government to assist them.

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