Monday, 17 December 2012

Phuket-Bound Burmese Nabbed by Navy, Set for Court and Jail

A young Burmese heads for jail after surviving the 2008 mass suffocation

By Chutima Sidasathian

Monday, December 17, 2012
PHUKET: A group of Burmese arrested on their way to Phuket are being sent to face court as Thai authorities attempt to slow the illegal trade in human trafficking.

The 27 Burmese and a Thai were arrested off the coast near the Burma-Thailand border yesterday, a police officer based in the Thai border port of Ranong said today.

''Instead of repatriating them straight away we will process them through the courts,'' Lieutenant Athid Eakmanop said.

The group of 20 men and seven women were being ferried by a Thai longtail boat from Victoria Point in Burma to Baang Ben village in Kaper, south of Ranong.

An employer on Phuket had paid 4000 baht for each of the 27 workers to cover costs, Lt Athid said. The workers were to meet a truck to take them on to Phuket and would have to repay the money, Lt Athid said.

The Thai boatman was paid 1000 baht to ferry the group from Burma to Thailand. Royal Thai Navy sailors and Marine Police apprehended the longtail about two kilometres off the tourist island of Prayam at 11am yesterday.

All the group were transferred to Ranong's Pak Nam Police Station where they arrived at 1am today, Lt Athid said.

Instead of being handed straight over to the Army's Internal Security Operations Command or Immigration officials, the group will be processed through the courts, the lieutenant said.

This could mean the Burmese and the longtail boatman being held for up to 48 hours at the police station.

A fine of 1000 baht is usually imposed by Ranong Provincial Court for illegal entry to Thailand. Burmese caught jumping the border usually serve time in jail to cover the fine at a rate of 200 baht per day.

''We hope this will end the cycle of people going straight back across the border straight into the hands of people traffickers,'' Lt Athid.

The expiry of the nationality verification process deadline last week could possibly bring a crackdown on as many as 30,000 Burmese working illegally on Phuket and hundreds of thousands more throughout Thailand.

However, expulsion of the Burmese would trigger an economic crisis within Thailand so mass arrests are considered unlikely, especially on Phuket.

Today's change in approach in Ranong is coincidental and designed merely to slow the ''revolving door'' through which huge numbers of Burmese are smuggled to Phuket and other parts of Thailand's Andaman coast.

Thousands of Burmese are trafficked to Phuket each year by sea and by road to meet demand in the construction industry especially.

In perhaps the worst example of how the system can go wrong, 54 would-be illegal workers suffocated inside a refrigerated seafood truck on the way to Phuket when the air conditioning failed in April, 2008.

Another 64 gasped for air but survived when the driver eventually opened the large sealed doors.

The survivors - mostly young men and women in their teens and 20s - served 10 days in Ranong Prison before being sent back to Burma.

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