Most of Hamas' Foreign Hostages Are Thai Migrants

Most go to Israel to work in agriculture, sometimes in poor conditions
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2023 4:20 PM CDT
54 of Hamas' Hostages Are Thai Migrants: Israel
Thai workers who were evacuated from Israel, reacts in a bus on their arrival at a military airport, before going back to their hometown in Bangkok on Oct. 16.   (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

More than half of the 220 or so hostages Hamas took to Gaza after its Oct. 7 attack on Israel hold foreign passports. The largest subset of that group is from Thailand, Quartz reports, a product of Israel's reliance on migrant labor, consisting of 54 people. "We are not involved in any of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. We are just there to work and earn money so we can have better lives," Chumporn Jirachart, whose son is a hostage, told CNN, saying that he's begging Hamas to release his son. "I need to have him back, in good shape—like before he left Thailand."

The Israeli government also counts people from the US, Germany, France, Argentina, Russia, and the Philippines among the hostages, some who are dual citizens—as well as, of course, Israelis. Nearly all of the Thai nationals kidnapped are thought to be agricultural workers, per the Guardian, who were in the southern part of Israel where Hamas concentrated its attack. Israel says more than 30,000 migrant workers from Thailand, who arrive on promises of higher pay than they can make at home, work in its agriculture sector. They're also the biggest group of foreigners who were killed or reported missing in the attack, at 24 dead and 21 unaccounted for, Israel said.

Israel has sought migrant labor from around the world, as well as from Gaza, letting more Palestinians in to work when unemployment there hit 47% last year. International groups have raised concerns about the treatment of migrants in Israel, and it reached an agreement with Thailand in 2013 to make changes. The US State Department is among the concerned, per Quartz. "Traffickers subject some Thai men and women to forced labor in Israel's agricultural sector by imposing conditions of long working hours, no breaks or rest days, withheld passports, poor living conditions, and difficulty changing employers due to limitations on work permits," a report on human trafficking issued last year said. (More Israel-Hamas war stories.)

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