Korean immigration targets Thais on luxury cruise

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The recent incident aboard the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth, as it approached South Korean waters, brings to light a concerning trend of selective immigration practices targeting Thai nationals. This event unfolded in the early hours, as passengers were awakened by an announcement that South Korean immigration officials were on board for a “random” inspection and that all should have their passports ready. However, reports from witnesses and affected passengers suggest a troubling specificity in this randomness: only Thai passengers were called upon for interviews.

The context of this incident—a luxury cruise where passengers, including families and individuals from around the globe, had paid significant sums for their journey—makes the targeted selection even more baffling and unjust. The underlying assumption that Thai passengers on such an expensive leisure trip could be intending to stay illegally in South Korea does not hold up to scrutiny and challenges common sense.

The details are stark: Thai passengers, among a diverse international cohort looking forward to exploring South Korean culture and heritage, found themselves singled out, their anticipation for the trip suddenly marred by a request for documents and questioning. The other passengers observed, creating an uncomfortable divide that had not existed before the announcement. It’s a scenario that resonates uncomfortably with a broader issue that has been highlighted before—a Thai national previously subjected to intense interrogation upon arrival in South Korea, despite being fully prepared for the visit, was denied entry.

This pattern of actions towards Thai and, by extension, Southeast Asian travelers, points to a need for a critical examination of the procedures and policies of South Korean immigration authorities. Such incidents, occurring in contexts meant to be welcoming and inclusive, not only tarnish South Korea’s image as a tourist-friendly nation but also raise flags about the consistency of its immigration practices with international norms of respect and nondiscrimination.

The incident on the Queen Elizabeth should not be viewed in isolation but rather as part of a series that necessitates a thorough review and reassessment of how South Korea engages with visitors from Southeast Asia. The focus should be on ensuring that policies are applied uniformly and fairly, without bias or presumption based on nationality.

As South Korea continues to captivate the world with its cultural and technological contributions, it’s essential that these advancements are matched by progress in how it welcomes the world to its shores.


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