When Patcharee Rattarangsee found out she was pregnant, it hurt every time her prenatal care physician asked if the father had tagged along. After months pregnant and alone, unable to see her South Korean boyfriend since January, she gave birth just five days ago.
“I cry every day, and I miss him so much. I’m currently at the hospital and in pain from the operation with just my mom and dad to take care of me,” the new mother said Tuesday. “He is very worried about me and my son. He has been video calling me to see his son’s face constantly.”
There are many stories like hers. When travel was locked down in March, Nara Rojwatana’s German boyfriend had to make a difficult decision: Say goodbye earlier than planned or not see his family for who knew how long. Then there is Phonrat Wisetphongphan, whose dream of beginning a new life and business with his Japanese girlfriend of three years was shut with the borders.
“It was her last day at her Japan Airlines job. She was in Singapore, and that day Thailand announced it was closing its borders,” the 26-year-old Bangkok man said.
While the pandemic inflicts physical and economic tolls, there are those suffering matters of the heart because they are separated from loved ones because they are not legally married. It’s suffering on a legal distinction that is needless, they have argued in a recent letter petitioning the government to allow unmarried foreign partners to travel.
“Some LGBT couples have lived together for a long time ,and they even have kids together, but they aren’t eligible for a marriage license under Thai laws,” said Thepsawarin Tapienthong, the 38-year-old cofounder of Love is Not Tourism, a group lobbying the government.
Their petition, signed by 6,300 people, was delivered late last month to the Government House. Thepsawarin said the Foreign Affairs Ministry has acknowledged their concerns and said it would propose solutions to the prime minister.
Thailand’s borders remain sealed to tourists and the only 11 types of foreign nationals allowed in include those married to citizens, holding valid work permits or possessing residences in the country.
Since July 30, the page has journaled stories from broken Thai and foreign hearts sharing their experiences and encouraging each other through hard times. It’s impossible to know how many couples have been separated by the pandemic, but reading through the hundreds of stories left by users on each post gives a hint – and many gut punches.
Bhenyapha Saenkaruna talks of being separated from child and family after her ferry became stuck on the wrong side of maritime borders when the emergency decree came down. Nik KhomSan Pornpoonsap wrote about watching his father’s April funeral by video from the United States.
Thepsawarin said similar movements have succeeded in winning support in European countries but hadn’t been tried in Asia. Though her own relationship with a foreign boyfriend had ended before the virus struck, she said she was motivated by empathy to help and felt her media contacts could help amplify the message.
“Europeans used photographs and conversations they had online with their partner as proof to gain humanitarian visas to be able to see one another,” she said. “I wish Thailand could do the same.”
Phonrat, who also helped start the group, said the outbreak ended plans to settle down with his girlfriend, who was moving to Thailand after three years together. The pain of separation is real and worthy of consideration, he added.
“Those who aren’t affected will condemn [reopening to foreigners], but I want society to understand our mental state. Normally we will meet every month or two, but now it has been long.”
He told Coconuts Bangkok on Wednesday that she recently applied for a medical visa – another potential exemption – but was rejected because her need was not severe enough.
Phonrat believes the government has the capacity to accept foreign nationals and control the virus, but public fear is too powerful to overcome. He cited the diseases and accidents going ignored that claim many more lives than COVID.
He thinks the compassionate act of giving a greenlight to foreign partners would be rewarded, with nothing for the public to fear from those arriving to see their loved ones – and possibly boost tourism.
“In my opinion, they would be happy to follow every rule applied to keep the disease under control if they can see each other again,” he said. “It would make them happy and want to spend some time away together, and that would stimulate Thailand’s economy.”
This article, Oceans Apart: Heartsick Thais plea for their foreign loves, originally appeared on Coconuts, Asia's leading alternative media company. Want more Coconuts? Sign up for our newsletters!