Two people were killed and seven wounded in Moshav Ohad in southern Israel on Tuesday during a rocket barrage fired from the Gaza Strip. The two victims, both men in their thirties, were Thai migrant workers at a packaging factory.
According to the United Hatzalah first responder organization, all of the wounded, several of whom suffered serious injuries, were foreign workers. The two foreign workers who were killed are Sikharin Sangamram and Weerawat Krunboorirak. Both are Thai citizens.
“This was a direct hit... When we arrived, we saw a raging fire at the scene,” said Eliyashiv Buchbut, a volunteer with the Zaka organization that gathers the remains of victims after terror attacks and disasters.
“Together with the fire brigade and [Magen David Adom] staff, we rescued and began treating several workers. Unfortunately, two of them suffered fatal injuries and MDA paramedics pronounced them dead at the scene. Zaka volunteers from the Ofakim and Sderot teams are clearing the scene of all human remains,” he said.
The rocket hit the home of the elderly woman she took care of, who was unable to make it to the nearest shelter and who did not have access to a reinforced room. Santhosh is survived by her husband and 9-year-old son back in India.
Foreigners working in agriculture in the south of Israel have long complained of dangerous working conditions, especially during times of conflict.
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During the Gaza conflict in the summer of 2014, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants advocacy group told AL Monitor that many workers were “complaining about being forced to go out and work in open areas on the Gaza border … where rockets land, without any chance of reaching a shelter when the warning sirens go off.”
According to Yahel Kurlander, an expert on labor and migration, Israel permits migrant workers to live “solely in mobile homes, out of the ‘principle of transience’ that prevents putting roots down in Israel. These structures don’t have a fortified safe room, of course. Even in normal times, most of the workers from Thailand live in inappropriate conditions and horrific crowdedness.” There is virtually no oversight of their living conditions or rights, she said.
The list of foreigners killed or wounded by rocket or mortar fire while working in Israel is a long one.
In 2005, two Palestinian and a Chinese worker were killed when a Qassam rocket slammed into a packing shed in the Ganei Tal settlement in the Gaza Strip. In March 2010, Thai worker Manee Singueanphon, 30, was killed by a rocket that struck the town of Netiv Haasara just north of Gaza. In January 2011, two Thai agricultural workers were wounded by a mortar fired by Islamic Jihad and in October 2012, three more Thai workers were injured by Hamas rocket fire.
During the 2014 Gaza conflict, Thai agricultural worker Narakorn Kittiyangkul, 36, was killed when a rocket fired from Gaza exploded in a greenhouse in Netiv Haasara. In 2018 Thai worker Janpen Sae-Jaw was wounded by shrapnel while working in an agricultural packing plant in Talmei Eliyahu.
“Thai workers [are] torn between their desire to make a living and their desire to live,” the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants wrote in a statement on its website after Tuesday’s attack, describing how many workers were “sent back out to the fields, while their employers assured them there was no danger.”
“Between us – the workers know that even if they remain in their quarters they will have no protection. They know that the Israeli government, which has approved their visas to come work in Israel’s agricultural sector, will not take care of them and will not fund their protection in areas within missile range,” the statement said.
Israel has faced scrutiny in recent years after campaigns and media reports that Thai migrant laborers are underpaid, forced to work long hours and exposed to dangerous conditions.
“The big problem is that the Thai Department of Employment has a ... shoddy record of protecting rights of Thai farmworkers in Israel,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Almog Ben Zikri and Reuters contributed to this report.