BANGKOK — For Piyamon and Daniel, their long distance relationship of three years was supposed to end in 2020. But it’s mid-July and Piyamon says not knowing when she will see her loved one again is like torture.
Starting at the beginning of July, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand relaxed coronavirus border restrictions and allowed foreigners married to Thais into the country. But the regulations do not cover unmarried couples who may have been dating or cohabiting for years.
“It’s like being dead while alive. I’ve been waiting since March, but Thailand has no action plan,” Piyamon Phomnayramit, 27, said by phone Thursday. “He was supposed to move here so we could start our life together.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Thailand, like the rest of the world, closed its airspace to tourists and visitors, stranding many Thais overseas and foreigners in the kingdom. Though some of the restrictions have since been lifted, couples who haven’t tied the knot are not included, since they need tourist visas to enter Thailand.
Worldwide, people separated from their lovers are campaigning online to allow loved ones to fly via LoveIsNotTourism.org, with links to petitions for dozens of countries.
“We, as international lovers and families, urge governments of all states to amend their travel restrictions,” the website said. “Allow the unbureaucratic and safe reunion of partners in long distance relationships as well as family members.”
So far, three countries in the world allow unmarried couples to meet: Denmark, Norway, and Austria. Denmark allows people to enter the country if they are the “spouse, live-in partner, fiancé, sweetheart” of a Dane.
“These people aren’t tourists. They want to see the people they love,” Piyamon, who is dating 28-year-old Scotsman Daniel said. “Daniel isn’t a tourist. He’s very close to my family.”
Piyamon as well as Fern, 27, are part of multiple Facebook groups where people update each other about any changes in regulation and offer moral support on being separated from their loved ones. Stories include a farang dad who can only see his kids through the screen, or a woman who gave birth without her boyfriend in the same country.
Piyamon also spoke openly about her struggles with depression, and said that separation and prolonged uncertainty exacerbated her mental health to the point where she had to stop working.
Fern has been dating a Malaysian man her age for two years, and they usually fly to meet each other every month or so. That’s all stopped with COVID-19.
“It’s affecting me emotionally, and all parts of my life,” she said. “There’s not much hope of seeing him any time soon, as there might be a second wave and even more regulations. I know we didn’t get registered as a married couple, but we still want to meet.”
Virtually every international LGBT couple are also separated by the coronavirus, since LGBTs cannot legally marry in Thailand. Apichart Vadhanawallasait, 27, who is dating a 34-year-old Singaporean for six years, has not met him for around four months.
“I’ve come to terms that I won’t see him at all this year,” Apichart said. “More flexible rules, such as requiring medical checkups and quarantining before entering and exiting the country, would allow couples to meet.”
The Thai cabinet endorsed a draft law that would allow same-sex marriage, although the bill still guarantees less rights than heterosexual couples.
“I think Thai law depends too much on gender, forgetting that everyone regardless of gender has the same human rights,” Apichart said.