The civil rights movement in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in Europe and America did a lot to protect the rights of vulnerable minority groups. These groups include foreigners. In many parts of Asia foreigners are still commonly perceived with distrust, and are denied the same rights as citizens. The civil rights movement in Asia has not developed along the same lines as it did in the West. A good example of this is Thailand.
Thailand is seen by many as a paradise country. The weather is great nearly year round. The cost of living is cheap. The people are friendly. The infrastructure and medical services are on a par with many Western countries and the crime rate is low. While welcoming foreign tourists, many Thais have a hypocritical attitude to foreigners living in Thailand. Foreigners are called ’farang’. They are viewed as a source of income. Those farang that try and integrate into Thai society are faced with a number of difficulties.
One of the most common phrases in Thai is: ’the farang knows too much’. Those foreigners who become too aware of the scams, the scandals and the extra legal way that many communities operate are often shunned. While learning Thai opens the door to communicating with locals, it also arouses suspicion and puts many Thais on their guard.
The law does not help. A good example of this is the visa system in Thailand. Even if married to a Thai person a foreigner will still have to leave the country every 2 months to make a visa run. This is the height of bureaucratic racism. There is no point to exiting a country and then immediately re-entering. Nothing is achieved except a regular income for those involved in the ’visa run’ business. It is a system designed to remind foreigners that they are only begrudgingly allowed to stay in the country.
Another injustice for foreigners in Thailand involves owning property and land. The law is a mess in this area. Foreigners have to buy through their spouse’s name. This leaves too much room for cheating. Foreigners not married to Thai nationals can only buy 30 year leases on land, but have permanent rights to anything they build. This is illogical. At the same time the Thai government allows Thai businesses that have minority foreign ownership to buy freehold property.
On the Thai island of Koh Tao the confusion of property law is exploited very cynically. Estate agents sell land and property to foreigners and then at whim they take the property away under the legal loophole that Koh Tao has no land titles because it was once a prison island. It is possible to get recourse in the courts, but a foreigner is always taking the risk of physical threats if they pursue their rights.
If Thailand wants to really attract foreign investment and increase tourist revenues it has to do more to protect the rights of foreigners. At the same time the police force has to be fairly paid so they spend more time upholding the law and not collecting ’fines’.