The New Year is almost upon us, but for many people that remain stranded due to border restrictions, there’ll be little to celebrate.
Travel bans imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 has still kept many families separated, desperately hoping to reunite with their loved ones. Families who call Thailand home have felt the brunt of stringent travel restrictions and challenging circumstances.
Hua Hin ex-pat, Barry Mutch understands this separation. For months at a time, he worked on an offshore rig then stranded in Oman as a result of Thailand’s ban on international flights. Barry made it to back to Thailand but was turned away at Suvarnabhumi immigration as he didn’t have a work permit for Thailand. “I was then sent to back to UK and my son was born two days later”. In March, he found himself stuck on the opposite side of the world as his partner gave birth to his first child.
For six months, he remained separated from his young family and a lot happens during six months in the life of newborn babies.
Barry was determined to get back to Hua Hin to embrace his son for the first time, to replace virtual calls with real contact. He then managed to attract the attention of TV networks to solicit coverage that he hoped would influence the authorities to change the rulings on allowing families to reunite.
Barry’s wife is the Pat of Hua Hin restaurant, Pat’s Place in Soi 94. She was interviewed several times by TV networks when Barry was still stranded, including English language Japanese news channel NHK. The reporter from NHK News then contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and during the tri-weekly COVID centre broadcast this comment was made: “to answer questions from foreign news channels, in particular NHK, we will now allow fathers of Thai children to enter”.
It had cost Barry almost US$6,000, continuous stress, applications for months and innumerable moments of sadness at the forced separation. But for Barry and his young family, it finally paid off when the joyous family reunion took place in August.
I felt an immense amount of joy, an immense amount of relief. There were a few tears shed, I won’t deny that,” he says. “There was a lot of happiness holding my boy for the first time, it was the best day of my life… I’ve got my fingers crossed that 2021 will be a lot better than 2020; however, my parents are still unable to visit their grandson; that’s the bitter-sweet part of my return.”
Barry is a Scotsman, who would usually be welcoming revellers to Pat’s Place for the New Year traditions of his homeland, known in Scotland as Hogmanay. This would have meant Scotch whisky would be flowing, bagpipes would be blowing and a big crowd of revellers would be dancing and singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight; but not this year.
Along with many other restaurants in Hua Hin, business has been slow and the ‘high season’ just hasn’t happened. Now Covid-related restrictions mean the sort of New Year event Barry was planning is impossible. It’s going to be a quiet New Year for Barry and Pat, but perhaps more importantly a New Year the family can celebrate together.
Let’s hope that others that still find themselves separated from family and friends during this time will take some inspiration from Barry’s story.
Sometime the old adage ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’ can be real; just ask Barry and Pat.