By Napat Wesshasartar and Chayut Setboonsarng
BAAN NONG SAENG, Thailand (Reuters) – When 26-year-old Natthaporn Onkaew headed for Israel two years ago to join thousands of fellow Thai migrants and take a job as a farm worker, his father warned him not to go.
“I asked him: ‘Are you sure that you want to go to this dangerous country where there are conflicts all the time?’ But he said it was fine,” Thawatchai Onkaew said at the small family home in the sleepy northeastern village of Baan Nong Saeng.
Now his words have come hauntingly true: Natthaporn is among 11 Thais and scores of other hostages taken by Hamas militants in their unprecedented assault on Israel at the weekend.
His parents have not been able to contact him since Friday and recognised him in a photo on social media of hostages sitting with hands seemingly tied behind their backs.
“He was going to play soccer with his friend. Then he hung up the phone,” his mother Thongkoon Onkaew said of their last phone call, her voice trembling as she sat with relatives and neighbours on plastic chairs around a table.
“I want them to release my son … I’m speechless. It’s completely dark,” she said. “Help the hostages as soon as possible. This is the only thing I want to tell the (Thai) government.”
Natthaporn is the family’s sole breadwinner, sending remittances of 30,000-40,000 baht ($812-$1,083) each month to his family in the village in Nakhon Phanom province surrounded by sugarcane plantations and rice fields.
The money covers school fees for his 12-year-old sister.
He is one of 30,000 Thais working in Israel, mainly in the agricultural sector. Thousands are now looking to return.
Thailand’s government said it did not have information on the hostages’ conditions, but is in touch with Israeli authorities and hopes Hamas will not harm them.
Among numerous nations with citizens caught up in the conflagration, 18 Thais have also been killed and nine injured.
Thailand and the Philippines are among the largest sources of migrant workers for Israel, the Filipinos mainly in healthcare.
($1 = 36.9200 baht)
(Reporting by Napat Wesshasartar, Thomas Suen and Chayut Setboonsarng, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)