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One in five Thai women in Australia cannot speak English

Tuesday 13th June 2017 9:48pm

As the numbers of Australian men seeking marriage in Thailand or relationship partners continues at a steady pace, there are concerns. One is that such relationships are not positively reported in the media but another is a disturbing pattern of abuse.

Official figures in Australia suggest that there are now nearly thirty five thousand Thai women living in Australia the majority of them being wives or partners to Australian men.

In the last few years there has been increasing media interest and concern about the exploitation and abuse of foreign wives in Australia. The numbers of Thai women marrying and resettling in Australia continues to increase with a report by the Australian government, based on 2011 census figures, showing the many of these women are taking lower paid employment in the Australian workplace.

Concern over exploitation of Thai women in Australia

As the burgeoning communities of Thai women throughout Australia including cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Perth continue to expand and develop, there is a concern that such reports of abuse may increase the negative stereotype that is sometimes associated with Thai women settling in foreign countries, particularly in Australia. Carla Boonkong is a researcher and writer from Bangkok who has studied the phenomenon of Thai women meeting and marrying foreign partners and resettling to foreign countries: 'I see the same pattern in Scandinavia and in Europe where we have concerned people or groups who call for an investigation into abuse against Thai women marrying partners in this or that country and over and over again we see the same result. In the vast majority of unions or marriages between Thai women and foreign partners, official reports and this is also true for Australia. These relationships are healthy and very successful. However we must always be concerned about reports of abuse and certainly there are cases of abuse in Australia and there are concerns for Thai women travelling to Australia particularly with Thai women with limited English language skills or the practical ability to nurture the workforce.'

Thai women in foreign relationships need support

'I am a passionate believer in the right of Thai women and foreign men to find happiness in these relationships but even I would accept that some government involvement to help protect Thai women or even to offer guidance would be welcome.'

There are indeed shocking reports of Thai women being abused in Australia including:

  • Thai woman wins in Aussie court: A Thai women who successfully sued her Australian husband for damages and won ownership of the family home when she proved in court that the man had treated her inhumanely for many years carrying out back breaking work in the house and farm that the couple owned.
  • Thai woman walks away from Australian dream: A Thai women from Perth who recently left Australia to have her child born in Thailand despite losing an opportunity for benefits and security. The woman endured a nightmare of exclusion in Australia living with an Australian with a drink problem who had lost his job. The facet of social inclusion is particularly severe for some Thai women from traditional or poorer backgrounds as Thai society and living very interconnected and social interaction is critical. These Thai women are also more prone to suffer from a language barrier.

Thai Australian marriage and relationships are happy

However despite these horror stories, it is true to say that the vast majority of Thai Australian relationships are happy ones. An investigation by the Australian government concluded that this was the case and this has also been the outcome in Finland, Switzerland and more recently Sweden. Many of the studies conducted in these countries into immigration caused by Thai wives or relationship partners were called from by women's groups who feared that the Thai women may be subject to exploitation.

Statistics on Thai women in Australia cause concern

However despite these positive reports, the recent figures by Immigration authorities in Australia do have some worrying aspects:

  • Many Thai women are working in low paid jobs. A similar trend has recently been seen for Thai women working in the States.
  • A significant minority of Thai women have language difficulties with English and cannot speak the language at all. The figure is approaching 20%.

M/s Boonkong's comments are confirmed by a statement from Pamela Brown at the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in Australia. In a recent interview with the media. M/s Bown emphasised that the Australian government had taken very seriously reports of abuse against foreign which included some Thai women. She pointed to measures that were introduced by the Australian Immigration Minister Nick Bockus in the 1990's. These regulations have made it more difficult for undesirable Australian sponsors to find foreign wives.

Bias in reporting of Thai women in Australia

However the spokesman for the Australian Department of Immigration pointed out that reports about the problem of abuse against foreign wives and Thai women including Thai wives, is 'smaller than we first thought.' M/s Brown pointed out that many of the stories of abuse against foreign wives including Thai women are repeated and mentioned by the media over and over again. The media coverage of Thai women marrying Australian men is something that is a cause of concern for M/s Boonkong, a commentator on the issue. 'I read everything I can about Thai women and their experiences in foreign countries and I very rarely see an effort by a media institution to go out and find all the positive stories that are out there throughout Australia. Sadly, there seems to be a determination to portray the story of Thai women marrying Australian men in a negative light. I am very sorry to have to say this. M/s Boonkong points out that Australia is no different to European countries and even the United States in this respect. She accepts that there is an overlap between the vile trade of human trafficking and sexual exploitation and the growth in the numbers of foreign men finding Thai wives as marriage partners and offers this as part of an explanation.

Social change in Thailand and Australia

The increasing number of relationships or love stories between Thai women and Australian men has been met with scrutiny by the media and the government in the commonwealth country. 'We have seen that the story of foreign men including Australian men marrying Thai women is a story of social change in both western countries and in Thailand. It is a very positive story and nearly every report that has been commissioned at every level has come to this conclusion. Yet I cannot understand why these reports are not fleshed out in the form of positive individual stories, I guess that is part of my mission.'

Pressure from various groups caused the Australian government through its Department of Ethnic Affairs to commission a report to explore the issue of foreign wives and in particular reports of serial abusers of foreign women being brought to Australia for the purposes of marriage. The report titled the Iredale report was prepared by researchers from the Centre of Multicultural Studies at the University of Wollongong.

Concern about pattern of multiple foreign relationships

The findings of the report were quite clear. It identified only 110 Australian men in total as having sponsored a marriage partner more than once. Fifty three out of the 110 Australian men had sponsored a marriage partner on two occasions while 57 had sponsored three or more partners. Out of the 100 Australian men it identified 8 who were known to have subjected their foreign wives or spouses to domestic violence.

However the report did highlight one disturbing pattern. That was that there was a noticeable increase as the years progressed in the numbers of serial abusers and also a noticeable increase in the numbers of serial abusers involved with Thai women.

Healthy Thai Australian marriages should not fear regulation

'I am the first to point out that negative reporting in relation to Thai wives in Australia and I would like to see more positive reporting. However this report from the Australian government must be acknowledged and might be some sort of warning sign. The numbers of Thai women marrying men continues to increase and if this report is correct, it shows that while the phenomenon increases that there is more likelihood of abuse. I think this is why I would like to see some sort of common sense regulation brought in by the government in Australia because in the end of the day the vast vast majority of Thai women and Australian men finding love together are decent people and these relationships are healthy. Therefore they have nothing to fear once any sort of regulation is fair minded' says Carla Boonkong.

Thai wwomen marrying Australian men, concern for Thai wives with limited English langauge skills
Australian government review and stats on Thai women living and working in Australia raise points of concern but confirm that Thai Australian relationships are positive and healthy.

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