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Australian government says Thai women in low paid jobs

Tuesday 22nd September 2015 9:13pm

For one Thai wife in Australia it's dream come true, another returns to Thailand after a nightmare

There are concerns about one in five Thai women marrying Australian men as new research in Australia shows a proportion of Thai women moving to Australia have difficulty with English.

Just over four years ago two Thai women joined an internet dating site on the same night and became online friends. They both met men from Australia. In fact their two Australian boyfriends arrived in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi just ten days apart prior to Christmas in 2011. The two couples even met for night out during that period. Both Australian men were from Perth Australia although from different backgrounds. And that is where the fairytale end as both relationships were destined to have very different outcomes.

Both Thai women were of a similar age Suttida was twenty nine years of age and her friend Praewa was twenty seven. But here also is where the differences emerge. Suttida worked in a travel agency in Bangkok, Praewa also worked in Thailand's capital city but as a beer girl at a bar in Sukhumvit. Praewa was not a sex worker and took three jobs in Bangkok to send money home to her family in Nong Khai. Suttida already had a baby girl from a failed relationship with old Thai boyfreind while Praewa was single.

Visas for Australia and arrival in Perth

Both Thai women received visas to travel to Australia with their Australian relationship partners and arrived in Perth within six weeks of each other in early 2013. Both relationships however had very different outcomes. Early this year, Praewa sought refuge at an Australian Police station in the centre of Perth asking for help to get home to Thailand and in fear of her husband's family. Even though she was in an advanced state of pregnancy, she simply wanted to get home to Thailand and have her baby at home. Still married to her Australian husband, she gave little thought to the economic advantages of having her child born in Australia. 'It's a bit counter intuitive and I would have advised her otherwise,' says Carla Boonkong, an expert commentator on Thai women living abroad. 'It certainly shows that every Thai woman is different and that these stereotypes can often be very wrong.'

At the same time Suttida is still living in Australia in a beachfront property in a good suburb of Perth where her she assists her husband's business which is thriving and is the mother to two young boys. She is actively involved with the community in the area where she lives as well as the Thai community in Perth. Her life is a success like many other Thai wives who have made the dream come true in Australia.

Thai wife who left Australia now living in Buriram

Praewa tells her story to our translators in Thai. She now lives in Buriram province with her sister as she could not face returning home to her parents in Nong Khai. Praewa gave birth in May to a baby boy and has already found work to help support her son. Her sister also helps us to understand what exactly happened to her in the in the two and a half years she spent living in Australia.

She tells her story to our translators in time with the assistance of her sister. She has not heard from her Australian husband and is still officially married to him in Australia.

It becomes clear from what Praewa has to say that her inability to speak English was a prime driver in her unhappiness and inability to cope with life in Western Australia. However there seem to be additional factors including a sense of alienation from her husband's family whom she found critical and condescending. She also describes her sense of uneasiness about living in Perth and in particular what she describes as regular outbursts of violence and intimidatory behaviour near her home in the area of the city that she lived in. Praewa lived in the Locksbridge area of Perth and tells us that her plight was so pitiful that she could not even get access to a mobile phone and lacked the language skills to set about making friends.

Story of two Thai wives in Western Australia

Her story is a striking contrast to that of her fellow Thai woman Suttida who has made a success of her life in Perth and now has two children in the same time frame. We ask Suttida if maybe she could explain or account for the difference in the two fates of the two Thai women. She really cannot explain it but does tell us that while Perth and Australia are full of opportunities for Thai people and in particular Thai woman, it does require the ability to go out and meet people and get involved.

Many Thai women marrying in Australia expected to work

The real lifestyle and story of Thai wives living in Australia receives very little press coverage in Australia except for concerns about abuse that has been voiced by some women's groups in a very similar pattern to what is seen in Northern Europe and Scandinavia and some stories which portray Thai women as honey traps for unsuspecting Australian men. There have been some notable reports of Thai women living with marriage partners and deserting then having obtained residency. These reports are not reflective of the real story about Thai wives marrying Australian men says a journalist who writes extensively on the subject not just in Australia but all countries throughout the world.

'We have seen from a government report in Australia that the level of abuse against Thai women is minimal and that most of these relationships as successful.This is the same pattern as in European countries. However there is concern for Thai women who lack the skill set to fit in with a very different society and environment that you could even describe as alien to many Thai women,' says Carla Boonkong.

'Australia is a particularly dangerous destination for Thai women without the right skill set as the economy in Australia means housing and the whole cost of living is very expensive, it's a big shock for many Thai women but it also means that they need to have supportive partners and be able to work outside the home in many cases, I think the environment in Australia is a bit more challenging for Thai women than Europe or Scandinavia for example.

Carla explains: 'I have looked to the research published recently by the Australian government and it shows clearly that Thai women, who form the vast majority of Thai people emigrating to Australia, are taking up more and more lower skilled and less lucrative work.'

Research published by the Australian authorities in the last two or three years based on the 2011 census shows that the majority of Thai women living in Australia are aged 25 to 44 years of age. The research shows that 70% of Thai people arriving in Australia are women. This is the same pattern that is being seen in Europe, America and all other countries. It is also disturbing that it appears that many of the Thai woman arriving in Australia, while they can speak some English, still prefer to speak Thai at home.

From the Australian census of 2011,it emerges that the average income of Thai working in Australia is nearly 25% lower on average than other nationalities who have emigrated to the countries. And it is nearly 40% below Australian born workers. 'I think this is a very interesting statistic and it must be appreciated that the majority of Thais working in Australia are Thai women, so this gives a picture to us of what is expected from Thai women in Australia,' says Carla Boonkong.

Concern for 20% of Thai women in Australia

'From all the research into Thai women living in Australia it is clear that about 20% of them have limited, very limited or even no English language skills at all. It is also clear that a certain proportion of Thai women, like many Asian women arriving in Australia may find themselves the subject of abuse or at least in a position where they face challenges. While Australia offers many and varied opportunities for Thai women and which by and large, they have exploited and used to prosper, it must be accepted that there are challenges facing these women particularly those with limited education and English language skills,' said Carla Boonkong. M/s Boonkong is currently preparing a report on Thai women living in Australia to be published at the end of December.

Strong Australian Thai community is a big positive

One of the positives that has emerged among Thai women in Australia is the strength and sense of community created by their adherence to Buddhism and again as in many European countries the Buddhist temples have become centres of community for Thai women who in Australia have been particularly successful at involving their partners and husbands.

Suttida tells ThaiLoveLInes that she is very happy living in Perth and describes a city that is full of welcoming and engaging people. Her description is confirmed by a recent report by a graduate from the University of Western Australia. The 2013 report highlighted the function of the Buddhist community in the region as a centre point for Thai women in creating a support network and active community.

Successful story of Australian Thai wife who has it all

Suttida paints a very positive picture of her life in Perth, Australia living with her husband in a very attractive five bedroom home, driving her own car and being active in her husband's business. From her arrival in Australia just two and half years she has already reached this point. The business has enabled Suttida to become involved and allowed her to make many friends. Suttida's husband, Jim, is originally from Sydney and only moved to Perth himself in 2005. He is a trained mechanic and was offered a career opportunity when his boss offered him the opportunity to take over the business in 2010. 'My husband works hard and our life is not always so easy but we have made a success out of things,' says Suttida. Jim and Suttida moved to the beautiful beachfront property in the Hillarys harbour area of Perth one year ago. Suttida works as the secretary to the business as well as the main bookkeeper. She tells us that she also helps her husband to communicate and deal with customers. Jim's business has developed a good reputation for servicing and repair expensive car models at lower prices than main dealers offer.

Language barrier and stereotyping key problems

Thai women face a number of challenges in Australia. There are cultural differences as well as the language barrier to overcome. Then there is the common problem experienced by Thai women all over the world, which is the negative stereotype attributed to Thai women. This stereotype is particularly emphasised in Australia where again, as in many countries there is a parallel between growing numbers of Thai women entering the country as partners and wives to Australian men and the growth of the sex industry and human trafficking. 'I think many of the media reports of Thai women in Australia are particularly negative,' Says Carla Boonkong. 'It is a constant feed of news of brothel keepers and on scams involving Thai women who lure Australian men to part with money online and even investigations into Thai women who come to Australia.

The importance of Thai food to Thai women in Australia

Another very important facet of Thai culture, which a postgraduate researcher from the University of Western Australia uncovered was that of food and the function of Thai food in enhancing the sense of community among Thai people.The research into Thai women in Perth showed that Thai food played a key role in developing the religious and social life of the women and their network network in Perth. An example of this can be seen from one very active association involved with Thai women in Perth which stages regular even monthly Thai food and Thai dancing events which allows Thai women to create a positive sense of community and also of course allows mainstream Australians living in Perth to see a positive representation of Thailand.

Carla Boonkong understands this completely. 'Yes, wherever you go in Thailand, food is very important or plays a very important function in all aspects of Thai culture. In the report, the researcher highlights the life of one Thai woman from Udon Thani in Northeastern Thailand who emigrated to Perth in 2000. The woman who is named as Jib found Perth to be lonely intimidating and became homesick very quickly after a few months living in the city. Her story is remarkably similar to Praewa's testimony and identifies the inability to leave the home and interact with Australians as the key source of loneliness and frustration.

Pattern of isolation for some Thai women in Australia

Jib describes struggling with her limited English skills and ability and feeling very isolated in a strange and alien society. However Jib's Australian husband, unlike Praewa's, took action and contacted the Thai temple in the city, the Dhammaloka Centre to make arrangement to allow her to interact and network with other Thai women. This was not possible for Praewa. 'I lost contact with Praewa when she arrived in Perth,' says her friend Suttida. 'I simply never heard from her.' This is confirmed from our interview with Praewa where she tells our translator that while living in Perth, she was denied access even to the most basic communications tools and did not even have a mobile phone.'

Thai woman's Australian husband faced financial difficulties

She describes a life of living in fear and often not having enough to eat at home and regular crises with unpaid electricity bills. 'You could describe Praewa's experience as bordering on abuse,' says Carla Boonkong.

Praewa's husband,was a well paid mining worker up until she came to live in Australia, when his work became erratic and unreliable. He developed what appeared to be a drink problem. Praewa tells our researcher that she cannot in truth tell whether her Australian husband was always like this. 'I think what Praewa's story highlights is that there is no regulation or way to vet potential husbands online or even when a relationship has started. It emerges that Praewa only dated her Australian husband for ten days in Thailand before the couple agreed to get married and Praewa decided to chance her luck with a new life in Australia. 'I suppose you could say that Praewa was just unlucky but I think that there must be a better way than this,' says Carla Boonkong.

Guidance for Thai women thinking of a foreign husband

'What is required is more education for Thai women and guidance and information on how to find the right partner, marriage or husband,'says Carla Boonkong. 'In fact my mission for the last 4-5 years has been to offer this guidance and I think on the whole that Thai women in 2015 are more aware hopefully, I am positive that they have more options' she says.

Thai temples and networks are key for Thai wives

In the report into Thai women in Perth, Australia by the graduate of the University of Western Australia, the Thai wife from Udon Thani experienced an immense feeling of relief and joy when she first visited the Thai temple in the city. One of the key reliefs was her ability to speak her mother tongue with other Thai women and to practice Buddhist rites with the monks on hand who also spoke Thai and offered her the same customs and ceremonies that many Thai women are used to in Thailand. 'I think many westerners do not quite understand the active and positive nature of what we call Thai culture and also the Thai Buddhist religion and how it works in practice. It is really a form of emotional support to Thai people and has immense psychological advantages,' says Carla Boonkong.

Suttida recalls being quite adamant to visit the Thai Buddhist temple in Perth very quickly after her arrival in the city. 'I was very lucky my husband made every effort to introduce me to his friends and bring me to all the favorite haunts and places that he liked in Perth. But I was also determined to teach him more about my culture,' she says.

Thai Community network in Perth Australia

'What I wasn't prepared for was the variety of services and the comprehensive the way the Thai culture and identity was so strong in this place. I felt very proud and still feel very proud to be a Thai Australian,' says Suttida. The report by the University of Western Australia graduate highlights many Thai woman living in Perth following the same route and discovering food stores and outlets that sell Thai food and produce. The importance of Thai food, Thai culture can be seen in the activities of the Thai Australian community of Western Australia which is a very vibrant and active association promoting Thai culture and the extended Thai community in Perth.

The Association has many cultural events and food sales throughout the year and publishes a website and Facebook page where Thai woman and Thaisa can interact not only with themselves but the mainstream Australian community in Perth.

Australian Thai relationships deserve positive support

We have reached a point in the story of Thai women marrying Australian men where there should be more structured guidance and support for the increasing number of Thai women exploring this option and indeed Australian men from the other end. The Australian government has in recent years streamlined and improved its visa system to protect against abuse and make the process easier to navigate. The Thai government has made efforts to offer consular assistance to Thai women living abroad. What is needed now is a little bit more positive support and guidance. The positive story of Australian Thai relationships deserves it.

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Two Thai women move to Australia with very different outcomes
Two Thai women arrive in Australia in 2013 at nearly the same time. Both live in Perth, Western Australia. For one Thai woman it is a dream come true, a story of perosnl success and fulfilment, for the other it is nightmare.
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