State of emergency in Thailand

Everyone realised very quickly that the [Crisis Centre] was generating involvement...

In Autumn 2008, Thailand was being torn apart. Opponents and supporters of the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, in exile abroad, clashed during increasingly violent demonstrations. On 2 September 2008, a state of emergency was declared. In October, two people were killed and hundreds injured during an anti-government protest. On 25 November, Bangkok’s airports – the largest in the country – were taken over by protestors.

A bomb killed one and injured some 20 others occupying the Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, leading to the indefinite suspension of all international flights. The airport closures blocked nearly 100,000 passengers in the country. The French Embassy in Bangkok immediately set up a crisis unit that would remain open until 8 December. At the time, the embassy estimated that around 1,600 French citizens were blocked in the country.

During this very particular situation, France viewed the fact that French citizens were forced to stay in Thailand (without the possibility of a quick solution) as a potential security threat. From 20 November to 8 December, the Crisis Centre issued 12 messages regarding the situation via the Travellers’ Advice website and set up a hotline available 24/7 to the general public, handling some 3,500 calls.

While their safety was not directly threatened, departure assistance for French nationals needed to be organized. On 1 and 2 December, Air France-KLM was able to get two flights out of the country from Phuket Airport in southern Thailand and to start rotations again. On 3 December, a large carrier was chartered by the Crisis Centre to participate in the evacuations. It brought 516 people from the Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok. On 4 December, the airport blockade was lifted, allowing all travellers to gradually board commercial flights and ending the Thai crisis.

Multiple crisis

The Mumbai attacks

Deadly and unexpected attacks...

Meanwhile, during the night of 26 November 2008 in Bombay, a group of Islamist terrorists launched a series of ten attacks that would last until 29 November. These attacks struck the main train station, luxury hotels, a restaurant popular with tourists and a Jewish community centre. The attackers sought to hit the country’s economic centre, attack Westerners and terrorize people. The Bombay attacks killed 88 people, including 26 foreign nationals (two of whom French), and injured 312.

In autumn 2008, the recently created Crisis Centre had to manage two simultaneous events that each affected French citizens. In cooperation with our local consulate general, a team was dispatched to Bombay to locate and assist the French nationals who were the victims of the attacks.

Bombay and Bangkok were two entirely different situations that both required the skilful and coordinated efforts of the newly created CDC. Although now well established, its ability to handle several crises simultaneously was tested from the start.