Relations with Thailand
The first member of the Order of Malta who visited South East Asia was Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar. He was part of the 16th century Magellan-Elcano expedition, the first voyage around the world.
Later, during the reign of King Narai (1656-1688), diplomatic ties between the Kingdoms of France and Thailand were sought. Hence, King Louis XIV sent a French diplomatic mission to King Narai, led by the Chevalier de Chaumont who was assisted by a Knight of the Order of Malta, Claude Forbin-Gardanne. They arrived in 1684. After the mission, Forbin-Gardanne remained for a short time in the service of King Narai who appointed him as Governor of Bangkok and Grand Admiral. He also received the Thai title of “Ok-Phrasaksongkram” for his services to the Thai army.
In 1681, another Knight of the Order of Malta arrived in Thailand for the Foreign Missions of Paris. As he spoke the Siamese language, he was asked by King Narai to accompany the King’s embassy to Louis XIV of France five years later as a translator. He later went to China where he became the Archbishop of Sichuan before returning to Rome in 1703.
The Order of Malta has thus had links with the Kingdom of Thailand since the 17th century, and has been part of Siam’s history through the presence of Knights of Malta who served the King of Siam. Hence the Order is no stranger to Thailand and its people and culture.
In modern times, in the late 1970s, the Order of Malta through its worldwide relief agency, especially Malteser International, started to assist the many Khmer refugees in Thailand who fled the Khmer Rouge Regime. The Order helped set up and operate camps along the Thai-Cambodian border providing medical and sanitation assistance. The Order is still active in Cambodia through its efforts to eradicate leprosy.
Since 1993, the Order through Malteser International has been supporting hosting communities for refugees along the Thai-Myanmar Border. Support is mainly in the form of health and WASH services. The Thai authorities responsible for border areas also requested the Order’s support for temporary safety areas set up more recently along the Thai-Myanmar border. Again, Malteser International is providing medical and sanitation services for these temporary areas.
Diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Sovereign Order of Malta were established in 1984. The newly established Embassy was headed by an Ambassador supported by a Minister-Counsellor and a Counsellor. Since then, through diplomatic means, the Embassy has been supporting the works of the Order of Malta in Thailand, including helping in emergencies such as the tsunami in 2004 and floods, and helping the poor and displaced persons.
In the aftermath of the tsunami, the Order of Malta helped distributing food, clothing and medecines, and rebuilding homes and temples in badly hit areas. The Order supported relief and recovery programs from 2005 to 2008.
The Order was also involved in rescue and aid efforts after the great floods in Hat Yai in the South of Thailand in 2010. Similarly, the Order assisted in a significant way aid efforts during the major floods around Bangkok in 2011.
There are currently some 20 Thai members (Knights and Dames) of the Order. The local grouping of Thai members is registered as a charity under Thai law. Much of the work of the Thai members of the Order focuses on helping the elderly poor all over the country, and assisting in emergency situation.
Visit the website of the Order of Malta’s Association in Thailand: https://orderofmaltathailand.or.th/?lang=en