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‘#BanTravelToKorea: Growing Outrage Over Deportation of Thai Tourists from South Korea’

By Ellie Sprinthall, BA International Relations and Korean, and Supalapinee Pakdeechanuan, BA International Relations and Korean

X user @nickkysone alleges that an immigration officer asked if they knew how many trees were in front of their hotel. They were ultimately denied entry.

Thai people are campaigning online against travel to South Korea due to growing frustration regarding Thai nationals being refused entry to the East Asian country.

Under the hashtag #แบนเที่ยวเกาหลี (#BanTravelToKorea) on the social media platform X, Thai tourists have been sharing their experiences of unfair treatment and deportation by South Korean immigration officials.

One popular post, by user @nuri_kw, has garnered 22,000 retweets. The post describes an encounter with an immigration officer asking, since the user had previously visited South Korea, why they needed to visit again. They also allege that the translator was unhelpful and gave incorrect translations, and they were ultimately denied entry.

Another user, @nickkysone, alleges that an immigration officer asked if they knew how many trees were in front of their hotel. The user was ultimately denied entry.

Another post by user @ganblade describes an immigration officer denying entry to a Thai person because she did not know the names of all the subway stations she would use during her trip. The immigration officer also accused the woman of fabricating her financial documents, despite her presenting the officer with her online banking app.

As reported in the Bangkok Post, many speculate that the deportation of travellers from Thailand can be attributed to the high numbers of illegal immigrants from Thailand in South Korea, as illegal immigrants often enter the country under tourism visas and overstay.

South Korea’s Ministry of Justice released an official statement on the 3rd of November responding to the controversy. In the statement, they explain there are approximately 157,000 illegal immigrants from Thailand in South Korea, three times higher than the amount eight years ago. They add that many illegal immigrants are often involved in drug and violent crimes in South Korea.

The statement also says that, despite Thai nationals having prior travel authorisation, immigration clearance will be granted based on the judgement of individual immigration officers. Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said the government will look into the issue, adding that he was previously unaware of the problem.

The issue comes amidst efforts by the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) to increase tourism from Thailand to South Korea. According to the Bangkok Post, 250,000 Thai nationals have travelled to South Korea in the first eight months of this year, just 70% of pre-Covid levels.

From the 30th of September to the 1st of October, the KTO hosted ‘Into the Koreaverse’ events in Thailand to promote travel to the country. At the events, package tours and flights to South Korea were sold.

Despite these efforts, a growing number of Thai people on social media are calling to boycott travel to South Korea due to the strict screenings and deportations, instead opting for travel to other countries like Taiwan and Japan, which offer visa-free entry for Thai nationals.

As reported in The Korea Times, South Korea and Thailand have agreed to hold

consular talks soon to respond to the complaints. They will reportedly also discuss the issue of illegal immigration.

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