‘Thais-only’ policy is racism, pure and simple

‘Thais-only’ policy is racism, pure and simple

‘This cannot be serious” was my initial reaction to news reports saying the Transport Company is imposing a ban on foreign travellers as a measure to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Or it might be fake news? In fact, such news reports are strange enough to belong in a “believe it or not” column.

So yesterday I telephoned the company’s call centre and the female operator just confirmed with a simple “yes”. She also said the weird rule applied to all expats who have been living here for decades.

“If they are foreigners, they cannot board the bus,” she said, adding the rule requires all passengers to show an identification card to prove they are Thai.

The information officer said it is the company’s policy and she had no idea when the ban would be lifted.

Absurd, isn’t it? Don’t they know the country has been locked down for months, with the closure of airports, piers and border checkpoints since April? With such closures, no foreign visitors or tourists are allowed in, so where would a travel-related virus come from?

If that were not absurd enough, there are reports that at least one temple in Bangkok — Wat Pho — which is very famous among tourists, has also adopted a “Thai-only” policy, which is blatant discrimination and has been met with widespread criticism.

A temple caretaker at Wat Pho told Khaosod English the temple is “not ready for foreign visitors yet”.

But we cannot blame the temple and the Transport Company — not entirely. For nearly three months, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has injected a strong idea that foreigners or Thais abroad are a health threat, in other words: potential virus carriers.

The notion of “if they are allowed in, the country would be at risk of more infections” led to a ban on foreign visitors and stringent measures against Thais wishing to return home. The state came up with ways to make it tough to return, which means stranded Thais are unfairly exposed to Covid-19.

Infections can now be controlled. Low numbers of new cases at state quarantine centres and favourable situations have led to the easing of the lockdown. Yet, too many people, like those at the Transport Company and the temple in question, still have this stigma and have got hold of an irrelevant — and weird — policy.

Worse, state agencies endorsed such discrimination.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Tourism Ministry insist each temple can adopt its own rules, to close or open to whomever it wishes. I am at my wit’s end why they don’t see how useless the Thais-only policy and practice are with regard to Covid-19 prevention.

Air travel and borders are expected to remain closed until at least July. In fact, the “Thais only” gate was there at the temple long before Covid-19 hit the country. When Thais visit a temple, they don’t have to pay or buy tickets. This is because it is presumed Thais are there to make merit.

I don’t agree with this policy, but I recognise the idea behind it: Thais pay taxes. No, they don’t need to get a ticket. Such a rule is applied in neighbouring countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. A Thai tourist who holds Buddhist beliefs gets no waiver there.

Such an explanation is not rational. There are many expats who also pay taxes, some at a very high rate, not to mention that some are Buddhists. I’d bet even if they are able to chant the Five Precepts at the gate, temple caretakers would still insist on them buying tickets. It is too complicated.

But we cannot expect such a rule to be lifted any time soon. Discrimination will persist as long as the state does not learn about the problem. Several state-run recreational sites, national parks, museums and others condone discrimination by adopting two-tier tickets or prices.

Some universal rules like the reduction of fares for retirees using the public transport sector are applied to Thais only. If this isn’t a form of discrimination, what is?

Just as countries around the world rise up against racism, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement, the people of Thailand and the Thai state are defiantly keeping such an ugly practice.

Thailand always claims it is one of the best countries for tourism. This is self-deceiving, if not a lie. The government and tourism authorities, in particular, must wake up and correct where they are wrong.

No, I do not mean the country should entirely reopen without any anti-virus rules. Precaution like mask-wearing and social distancing must be maintained. The virus is dreadful, but no one should allow it to rob us of common sense.