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Phuket Opinion: Begging for assimilation

PHUKET: The recent reports of sea gypsy children begging for money from tourists at Rawai Pier this week is merely a symptom of a much deeper problem faced by this marginalised community.

opinion, culture, economics, crime,

The Phuket News

Sunday 25 June 2017, 09:00AM

Children at the sea gypsy village in Rawai. Photo: Mark Knowles
Children at the sea gypsy village in Rawai. Photo: Mark Knowles

The sea gypsies’ traditional way of life, their language, culture, livelihoods, land rights and political status have been sidelined by Thai society for decades.

The meagre scrap of land in Rawai where the community resides, and has done so for centuries according to even the DSI (Thailand’s equivalent to the FBI), has long been targeted by developers intent on pushing them off so they can build yet more tourist accommodation.

Only little more than a decade ago that these people started being recognised by the Thai government as citizens, though the children by law have always had access to education and other basics provided by the state. As they continue the slow process of integrating into wider society they face the same problems that typically beset indigenous communities that are enveloped by a dominant society – namely illiteracy, lack of access to health and employment opportunities, alcohol and drug addiction and social discrimination.

C and C Marine

These problems are further exacerbated in this case by the stark inequality that results from them being smack bang in the middle of an international tourist hub like Phuket – and Rawai in particular. As their parents eke a living from overfished waters and day labouring and return to their tiny shacks – surrounded as they are by luxury tourist hotels – the children must surely wonder at this endless stream of foreigners with seemingly endless amounts of money who visit their community and take photographs of their “rustic” lives.

The paternalistic actions of many charities, no doubt with the best of intentions, often does little to help the situation – much the same can be said of people who give money to the children who beg. On a recent visit to the Rawai sea gypsy village, this writer witnessed a brand-new SUV pull up outside the village, whereupon emerged a group of local charity workers who began handing out colouring books and pencils to the eager children who quickly caught on to what was happening and swarmed the vehicle.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions – and both the people and organisations offering handouts to should consider the unintended consequences of their “generosity”.



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