The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has been working 24 hours a day to repatriate Thai nationals and foreigners stranded back into the kingdom by the coronavirus. Chatri Archjananun, Department of Consular Affairs Director-General, sat down to share the inside story of the race against time to get them home.
In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Chatri recalled that the most arduous rescue mission was to send a chartered flight to Thais stranded in Wuhan, but itt gave them a lesson and became a blueprint for later flights. The MFA’s 1,500 employees are half and half distributed between Thailand and overseas. They are standing by in the midst of a crisis to provide humanitarian assistance to those living overseas; for example, they responded to the volcanic eruption in Indonesia and the civil unrest in Libya.
By March 26, when the emergency decree relating to the coronavirus came into effect, Mr Chatri said the ministry had already managed to handle some repatriation flights, but the evacuation of Thais stranded in Latin America was a new hard nut to crack. Mr Chatri said that managing the outbreak of coronavirus involves close collaboration with foreign and domestic agencies. The ministry has joined hands with airlines to lighten the repatriation financial burden.
He stated that the ministry is collaborating with the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Public Health, Immigration Bureau and Thailand’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAAT) to ensure successful repatriation missions. Mr Chatri said the total number of Thais from overseas is about 1.6 million, but they seldom register with the ministry, like other nationals. Last year’s elections for absentee voters outside the kingdom luckily gave authorities a rough indication of how many Thais are living abroad.
Equipped with this knowledge, Mr. Chatri said the ministry would have to decide the number of returnees in line with the state quarantine power. It has brought back 82,631 by land, air , and sea from abroad as of Sept. 4. The government has set a quota of 600 repatriates per day, up from the early 200.
Another experience he recounts was the CAAT ‘s sudden implementation of a flight ban which resulted in Thais being stranded at airports and unable to obtain needed documents.