“Let them die there,” exclaims one side.
“Have some compassion, they’re humans too,” argues the other.
As thousands of undocumented workers living in South Korea amidst the COVID-19 outbreak return home, the spotlight has been cast on the societal divide regarding these “little ghosts”.
As of today, about 4,727 out of 5,386 undocumented workers have returned to the country — not at the same time, but gradually.
Seventeen of those individuals, four men and 13 women, had a higher temperature than average, reported several local media publications. Initial examinations do not indicate signs of coronavirus, however.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha announced that “little ghosts” coming back from Daegu and Gyeongsang, area with high infection risks, will be quarantined for 14 days, according to Daily News.
But unlike the Thais evacuated from Wuhan last month, their return was not warmly welcomed by citizens.
Many expressed “no empathy” for the undocumented workers for they’re seen as lawbreakers.
I don’t have empathy for #ผีน้อย, not an ounce. You get what you give ja.— youfuckingcunt (@youfwckingcunt) March 3, 2020
But hold up. Who exactly are these “little ghosts”? Where did the term come from and why is Thailand so divided about them?
Who are these “ghosts”?
Undocumented workers living abroad are colloquially dubbed “little ghosts” (ผีน้อย) in Thai due to the fact that they operate in the shadows and without permits.
In search of job opportunities and better wages, many of these workers enter the host country on tourist visas and overstay. Some obtain jobs at factories and farms, while others get into seedier industries, such as massage parlours and hostess bars, etc.
“Little ghosts” is believed to have been coined by undocumented workers; it’s how they referred to themselves. With time and an increasing amount of undocumented workers overseas, the term and it’s connotation was imported to Thailand. Now “little ghosts” is a commonly understood Thai slang.
There have long been complaints by Thai travelers that they face strict measures at airport immigration, as well as prejudices from South Koreans. For example, airport immigration may suspect a group of Thai female travelers as “little ghosts” coming in to work in massage parlours. On the streets, South Koreans may look at this same group of Thai females as sex workers. As well, Thais who live and work in South Korea legally often face the same social stigma.
Because of the negative image many South Koreans have on Thai people, the blame is put squarely on the shoulders of undocumented workers.
Each year, between 500,000 to 600,000 Thais travel to South Korea. In September last year, the Ministry of Labor estimated 160,000 Thais working and living in Korea — a baffling 140,000 of which are “little ghosts.”