Locals in Phuket, Thailand, are purportedly saying that Russian immigrants have formed a Russian-only economy on the island, displacing locals and causing a spike in property prices, making life more difficult for tenants.
According to the Guardian, the number of Russians moving to Phuket to avoid being drafted into battle in Ukraine has increased dramatically.
According to Al Jazeera, almost 400,000 Russians visited Phuket between January and July of this year, more than doubling the number of visitors recorded before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began.
Many have purchased property on the island, established businesses, and obtained long-term visas in order to evade conscription at home.
According to the Thai Real Estate Association, Russians were the largest overseas buyers of property in Phuket last year, and sales to Russians increased 68 percent in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, according to the Guardian.
However, not everyone has welcomed their arrival in Thailand, with some residents alleging that Russian-only enterprises have begun to emerge, purportedly manned by persons working illegally and run through Russian language applications.
According to certain sources, Russian sex workers serving predominantly Russian customers have begun functioning in the province’s main nightlife districts.
Russian’s for Russian’s in Phuket
According to Prayut Thongmusik, president of the Phuket van drivers’ club, which represents 200 tourist minibus operators, some Russians “came to run the whole tourism business.”
“They drive personal vehicles that have not been registered as service vehicles with the Thai transport department, picking up tourists who book them through a Russian app, offering nearly 20% lower fees than us,” Thongmusik was quoted as adding. “They make certain that all the roubles remain in Russian hands.”
Residents have been frightened and disturbed by lawlessness associated with the massive influx of Russians, in addition to economic issues. Certain jobs are restricted to Thai natives by local legislation, but these limitations are not frequently followed.
“After receiving a complaint from a Thai citizen, we arrested three Russian nationals who opened a hair salon,” Lieutenant Colonel Thongchai Matitam stated. “We charged them with breaking the law by performing jobs that were only available to Thais.”
More blatant criminality has also been reported, such as the shooting of a Russian businessman in June and the arrest of a Russian man apparently related to a phone fraud ring operating out of Cambodia.
According to local media, Russians accounted for the majority of criminal charges filed against foreigners in Phuket during the first three months of 2023.
Sergey Malinin, a Russian expat and tour operator who has lived in Thailand for 25 years, believes that locals’ aversion to Russians is misguided, and that many criminals are mistaken for Russians.
“To Thai people, they are all Russians, even if they are Uzbeks, Ukrainians, or Georgians,” he told Al Jazeera. Malinin went on to say that some Russians only become criminals in Thailand because of the country’s severe immigration policies, where “the only way to stay is to break the law.”
Criminals and Scammers in Phuket
On June 8, Phuket immigration officers detained a Kazakh man on suspicion of killing Russian businessman Dmitry Aleynikov, 44, when he was sitting in his car outside a crowded cafe in broad daylight.
A 31-year-old Russian man was arrested on the Thai vacation island of Koh Samui on Monday for potential links to Cambodian scammers.
Multiple Russian criminals have been apprehended while hiding out in other resorts, notably Pattaya, which has earned a reputation in recent years as a haven for fugitive Russian mafia leaders.
The Phuket Tourist Association sent a delegation to St. Petersburg on August 15 for a roadshow aimed at bringing in $1.7 billion from its top market, Thai state media said.
Meanwhile, real estate prices are rising as Russians attempt to relocate away from a conflict that appears to have no end in sight.
“Phuket has a limited amount of land, so real estate on the paradise island will only go up in price,” Sofia Malygaeva, a Russian property agent based in Phuket, told Al Jazeera, adding that many customers are purchasing off-plan for 20-30 million baht ($565-$850,000).
“Customers are from Moscow to Siberia; they still have businesses in Russia or work remotely, but they want to live in Phuket with their families,” she noted.
“They understand that it’s a safe place to be.”