As Cameroon’s economy has been experiencing a dwindling fortress over decades due to poor governance and years of heightened insecurity, thousands of youths who are educated but unemployed have set their eyes on one goal: to leave the country for greener pastures abroad.
The angst to leave Cameroon has often blindfolded young Cameroonians from the mammoth challenges faced by “bush fallers” in countries like Thailand. Going to jail for fake visas, blatant racisms, and renewing visas amidst imprecise immigration laws are common experiences among those we spoke to.
This week, The National Times News spoke to 10 Cameroonians living in Thailand about their lives in the tourist-friendly nation. They talk about the joy and absurdities of living in the country, as Cameroonians and blacks. To them, living in Thailand is more of a torture than tourism.
Shu Gerard, a graduate from the University of Dschang, said after three unsuccessful attempts to travel to the United States of America, he finally got the chance to travel to Thailand. “It’s new and not so many people have gone there,”his agent and a friend had told him. Shu’s father supported his agent’s advice, so the young yearning Cameroonian decided to take the bold step.
When he arrived Bangkok in late 2012, Shu picked up his first job in Chon Buri, a tourist haven on the outskirts of Bangkok. A job which paid him only 15,000 Thai baht, approximately FCFA 250,000 a month. Shu recounted the startling cultural difference between Thailand and Cameroon, which to him, is hard for Cameroonians to adapt to.
When we asked him questions that most Cameroonians will obviously consider as bizarre questions like where do you work? Where do you live? How much do you earn? And appealed to him not to be offended by these questions, the high spirited Shu said. “Did you know I picked up the best job of my life just because I refused to take offense at some certain questions that were posed to me?’ he continued. “The Thai man was a teacher in Kajonkiet International School and they needed a teacher. When he asked me where I worked, I told him. When he asked how much I earned, I told him 15,000 baht, he asked if I am happy with that, I was honest to tell him that I wasn’t. After a few pleasantries, we parted ways. I was shocked the next week when he called and told me there was a vacancy in his school and that he was ready to recommend me. That’s how I got this shot here at Kajonkiet International School,” Shu recounted.
Beside these cultural shocks, thousands of Cameroonians in Thailand are exhilarated, confused and belittled when it comes to extending their visas. Most Cameroonians are shocked to discover upon visiting the immigration department to renew their visas that the visa they used in entering the country were fake.
Nicky Sun, a teacher in Phuket told The National Times News that: “… for fake visas, the Thai Government is to be blamed’. Nicky asserted that her junior sister, whose name and location we are withholding for professional reasons, successfully entered the kingdom last year.
According to her, she went through the Suvanbumni International Airport successfully after which, she flew to meet her in Phuket and quickly got her a job, after leaving there for less than two months.
When it was time for her to report at the immigration office to change her status from tourist to a non-immigrant- B – working visa- status, upon presenting her visa, she was handcuffed and bundled into detention, awaiting trial on charges of fraud (a fake visa).
Though a Bangkok Judge later acquitted her of the charges, there are hundreds of African immigrants facing at least five years in jail on similar charges. Cases like Brother Forbi Michael, who remains in custody in the Songaekolok Border Prison since 2017, and many others whose relatives refused to give their names to The National Times News.
Reflecting on this quagmire, Tanwei Collins, one of Cameroon’s most venerated teachers in Thailand, who works for an international college in Bangkok, advices prospective travellers to “do a proper verification of their visas. “… Call any Thai embassy in Africa and explain your fears. They will always help you,” he opined.
Nkwelle Eugene (not his real name) and his family gathered at the Douala Airport on March 20, 2016. The family, with love, respect and joy bade him a safe and happy trip to Thailand. However, his experience in Thailand has been everything but safe and happy.
Some Cameroonians believe that travelling from Cameroon to “bush” comes with some respect and admiration. But sometimes, rather than respect, racial abuse is what black people in countries like Thailand. Sometimes it is boldly written in caps on job websites “WHITE EUROPEANs or AMERICANs NEEDED FOR A TEACHING POSITION.”
Most often than not, racism is spelled out by the parity of the pay gap between races. “Whites are considered better teachers because they are white,” Nkwelle Eugene said.
A more serious worry is racism in public transport. It happens in a subtle, relaxed, non-aggressive manner. Every Cameroonian Tthe National Times News talked to has been racially abused. One of our respondents shares his experiences. “In transport buses Thais next to me cover their nostrils to show me that I smell. Even when I dress well and wear good perfume bro,” Moh Manyang(not his real name)lamented.
Just when you think Moh has seen it all, Nicky Sun has had more: “Everyone came down from the bus when I entered. A woman started it, they said they can’t seat beside anything black,” Nicky Sun said.
On his part, Tanwei Collins asserted that : “not every African here views these worrisome behavioural pattern as racist, though some view it as sheer ignorance, which can be, at least, combated and defeated, as subtly as it presents itself.” Tanwei calls it “lack of knowledge” and ‘refuses to let it worry him. “If only blacks in Thailand consider racism as lack of knowledge…, they won’t suffer the psychological trauma,” he opined.
These apprehensions, fear and lost are worsened by uncertainties surrounding immigration laws. Immigration laws vary and change depending on the law enforcement boss officer on duty. Sometimes it depends on the officer’s mood. A tourist visa, for instance could be changed at the Hatyai Immigration Office in the morning and another black immigrant from the same country who comes an hour later could be sent to go abroad and change it. Many if not all black immigrants don’t know the legal provision that gives room for this. “How do you explain laws that change as people on duty change?” Nicky Sun asked.
Surprisingly, Thai immigration laws allow for this. Article 5 section 35 of immigration Act B.E 2522, on what circumstances can an immigrant’s tourist visa be changed into a working visa, categorically states that: AS DEEMED NECESSARY. This gives the officers authority over the law. Source: SIAM LAW FIRM official website.
To Tanwei Collins, “the recipe for success here is a catalogue of traits. Some definitely above human control like luck. It is however imperative to have GOD, regardless of your perception of him.”
When asked the question, should a Cameroonian come to Thailand for greener pastures? Nicky’s immediate response was “no don’t try it.”
Another question posed to Tanwei was: what should potential greener pasture-seekers aiming for Thailand look out for? His response was terse, “look before you leap.” he advised.