Saudi travel restrictions to slacken

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Saudi Arabia is considering lifting a 30-year ban which restricts the travel of its citizens to Thailand.

The ban was imposed following the ‘blue diamond’ affair of 1989: after a Thai national broke into the palace of a Saudi prince and stole almost 100kg of jewellery, including a blue diamond, three Saudi diplomats visiting Bangkok were shot in two different attacks on the same night and two days later a Saudi businessman was killed.

Two years ago, Saudis were restricted from travelling unless they obtained official approval or provided evidence of one of the three requirements: being married to a Thai woman; travelling for medical care available in Thailand, such as stem cell transplantation; or visiting due to transit in Thailand.

Despite the ban, thousands of Saudis visit Thailand every year; they simply do not register their names with the embassy, and this, says a Saudi diplomat based in Bangkok, can be attributed to ‘unfounded concerns that the diplomatic mission would report their names to Riyadh for breaking the ban’. Indeed, many who contact the embassy only do so after encountering problems such as losing passports.

Thanks to recommendations from the security committee, however, Saudi Arabia has introduced six new exceptions which allow citizens to enter the country without breaking the law. The first allows those employees of government agencies and public institutions to enter, supposing they are participating in regional and international conferences, seminars, meetings and sports and cultural competitions.

Saudis wishing to import goods for business are also to be granted entry, supposing they can provide evidence endorsed by the chamber of commerce. Employees of the regulatory and health authorities who travel to Bangkok as part of their work to follow up the products imported from Saudi Arabia to Thailand will be allowed to enter, as will patients and their treatment companions who visit Thailand for treatments that cost less than they would in clinics in other countries.

The final exceptions allow access to Saudis travelling to visit relatives – those who have relatives (up to the fourth degree) who are employed by the Saudi embassy in Bangkok are allowed to visit them.