Residents and business owners in Phuket are furious over the increasing number of Russians who have settled on the island, taking jobs, operating businesses illegally, and introducing prostitution exclusively for Eurasians. The surge in Russian arrivals, estimated at around 400,000 between January and July of this year, has stirred resentment among the Thai community, leading to calls for action against their illegal activities.
Many of the Russians who have flocked to Phuket obtained long-stay visas, invested in properties, and established businesses, seeking refuge from economic turmoil and potential conscription following Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.
In response to this growing influx, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Phuket in July to inaugurate a new consulate to cater to the rising number of Russian citizens seeking opportunities on the island.
This significant presence of Russians has brought about rapid changes. Property prices have surged, benefiting Thai property owners and real estate agents but making it increasingly challenging for renters to find affordable accommodation. Moreover, Russian-run businesses have emerged, often facilitated through Russian-language apps, and have been accused of employing illegal workers.
In addition to economic concerns, there have been reports of Russian sex workers operating in areas like Bangla Road, primarily serving Russian clientele. The proliferation of such activities has caused unease among the local Thai population.
One area significantly affected is the transportation sector. Prayut Thongmusik, the president of the Phuket Van Drivers’ Club, reported that Russians have taken over the tourism business by offering tourists cheaper transportation services through unregistered vehicles and Russian apps, diverting revenue away from local drivers.
“They make sure all the roubles stay with the Russians.”
Social media platforms have become outlets for locals to express their growing anxiety about job security and the potential manipulation of tourist businesses by Russian investors. Some posts even feature photographs of Russian taxi operations and individuals believed to be Russian workers, reported Aljazeera.
Amid this discontent, Phuket’s police force has taken action. Last month, several illegal workers, identified through tipoffs from concerned locals, were arrested.
Lieutenant Colonel Thongchai Matitam revealed that his officers arrested three Russian nationals who had opened a hair salon, breaching laws that reserve certain jobs for Thais.
Beyond the economic implications, there are concerns that the influx of Russian capital could lead to business rivalries and criminal activities.
Reports have emerged of violent incidents involving Russians, including a shooting that targeted a Russian businessman in broad daylight. Authorities in Phuket have emphasised that the majority of Russians in Thailand are law-abiding, but these high-profile incidents have raised security concerns.
On the other hand, the economic contribution of Russians to Phuket cannot be overlooked, especially considering the slower recovery of tourism from China post-pandemic.
Luxury boat seller Simpsonmarine Phuket noted a substantial increase in Russian buyers, with purchases of yachts worth millions of dollars rising by 10-20% since the Ukraine conflict.
Moreover, the Phuket Tourist Association recently organised a delegation to St. Petersburg for a roadshow aimed at attracting approximately US$1.7 billion in revenue from the Russian market. This highlights the growing importance of Russian tourists and investors to Phuket’s economy.
Real estate prices on the island have also surged as Russians seek refuge from ongoing conflicts. Many customers are purchasing properties worth tens of millions of baht, with a Russian property agent, Sofia Malygaeva, stating that Phuket’s limited land availability will likely lead to further price increases. Russian families, in particular, view Phuket as a safe haven for their loved ones amidst global uncertainty.
The influx of Russians into Phuket has brought both opportunities and challenges. While their economic contributions are significant, concerns over job security, illegal activities, and safety persist among the local population.