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Thawatchai and Thongkoon On-kaew, parents of Natthaporn, hold photos of him outside their home in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, October 10, 2023. Natthaporn was working in Israel when members of Palestinian armed groups took him hostage on October 7, 2023.  © 2023 Thomas Suen/Reuters

The Hamas-led attacks in southern Israel on October 7 targeted Israelis, but migrant workers in Israel were also killed and taken hostage. Their families are grieving for them halfway around the world in Thailand, Nepal, the Philippines, and Cambodia.

More than 240 people were taken hostage on October 7, the Israeli government reported. After Israeli citizens, the largest number of hostages taken by Palestinian armed groups are Thai. According to the Thai Foreign Ministry, 22 Thai citizens were taken hostage, 32 were killed, and 19 were injured. Ten Nepalese students working in agriculture were also reportedly killed, as well as four Filipino caregivers, and one Cambodian student.

Deliberately killing civilians and holding people hostage are war crimes. No one should ever be treated as a bargaining chip and Hamas and Islamic Jihad should immediately and safely release all detained civilians. Governments that have influence with Hamas should use their leverage to press for all hostages to be treated humanely and freed without conditions.

Thailand is the largest source of migrant labor for Israel with about 30,000 Thais working in Israel, almost all of them male agricultural workers. Thousands were working on farms on the border with Gaza when the October 7 attacks occurred.

The Thai government is offering repatriation flights for its citizens and 7,415 have returned as of October 30. But many are reluctant to leave Israel because of debts they owe associated with getting their jobs in the first place. Thai workers in Israel experience low pay, excessive working hours, and hazardous working conditions in Israel, as Human Rights Watch has previously documented.

The Thai Cabinet offered compensation of 50,000 baht (US$1,400) and soft loans to those who choose to return. The Israeli government is also offering financial incentives and bolstering security to encourage them to stay.

Meanwhile, Thailand recently dispatched Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara to Qatar and Egypt to press for the release of Thai hostages.

The father of Manee Jirachart, a 29-year-old Thai office cleaner who was among those taken hostage told CNN, “I have no words. I just want my son back.”

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