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Passport photo in place? The arrivals queue at Phuket airport

Arguing with Phuket Immigration: Is It Safe?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Phuketwan Updating Report

THE ARREST and jailing of Briton Simon Burrowes has created great concern among tourists and expats about Thai laws governing disputes with Immigration officials.

Director General of Immigration at the Phuket International Airport, Suksopon Maneeson, declined today to allow Phuketwan to view the contentious photograph in Mr Burrowes' passport.

He added that the voice tape of Mr Burrowes' conversation at the Immigration counter on January 31 was also likely to be produced as evidence in court.

For that reason, he could not provide a transcript.

Mr Burrowes has since spend more than three weeks in a crowded Phuket Jail before being bailed, and on April 26 faces the possibility of a lengthy jail term.

His problems began as he fronted Immigration on his way out of Phuket after a holiday.

The circumstances and his punishment so far have caused alarm among other Britons and tourists from other countries.

Khun Suksoporn said today that, as could be expected, there are quite often debates between departing or arriving passengers and Immigration officials.

However, he said, to his knowledge, the Burrowes case was the first on Phuket that actually led to the arrest and imprisonment of a tourist.

A senior police officer told Phuketwan that Thai law protected officials on duty.

If they faced abuse or threatening behavior, the person involved could be arrested and face a charge, with a one-year jail term as the maximum penalty.

The dispute involving Mr Burrowes began when the Immigration official looked at his passport. Her attention focussed on his passport photograph.

According to Khun Suksoporn, the portrait shot of Mr Burrowes was shirtless. He was not looking directly at the camera, but at an angle, out to one side.

Reports say that about this time, Mr Burrowes' friend and travelling companion negotiated outbound Immigration and headed for the flight back to Britain that they were both due to catch.

Probably with one eye on the time of the flight, Mr Burrowes watched as his passport was handed back to another official for closer examination.

According to Mr Burrowes, as quoted in The Voice online, the official examined the passport carefully for about 30 minutes.

As his flight time drew closer, Mr Burrowes apparently became agitated to the point where he allegedly snatched the passport back, swore at the official, and criticised Thailand in a way that caused the official to take offence.

A spokesperson at the British Embassy said today that the passport had been verified as genuine.

''Thai authorities now accept that it is a legitimate passport, so our understanding is that the charge relating to the passport has been dropped,'' she told Phuketwan.

She said that passport shots were now required to have the subject look directly at the camera, but did not elaborate on whether this was the case in Mr Burrowes' passport, nor confirm whether he was shirtless in the photograph.

Thai culture disapproves of people appearing shirtless in public, although it is acceptable on beaches.

For official documents in Thailand (passport, ID Card, drivers license, etc), Thais must wear shirts that cover their shoulders.

Khun Suksoporn yesterday questioned the standards of any passport that did not follow international convention, and suggested that the British standard in this case was lower than that of Cambodia or Laos.

The key question in the Burrowes case remains whether a tourist who has been apprehended on what many view as a minor charge should have to spend three weeks in Phuket Jail, built for 700 inmates but overcrowded with more than 1000.

While jailers expressed concern about the safety of Phuketwan reporters who wanted to tour the prison, the same concern does not appear to be held by Thai authorities about the safety of Mr Burrowes.

He has already served a three week jail penalty and his case will not be heard until April 26.

The spokesperson for the British Embassy said today that the conditions in Thai jails ''is something we raise with the Thai authorities in an ongoing process. It is something other embassies are probably raising, too.''

Phuketwan has applied for permission from the Justice Ministry to tour Phuket Jail.

Phuketwan's News File


Lessons from One Phuket Tourist's Nightmare
Latest Analysis Phuket's Burrowes affair probably alarms many people. Tourists can sympathise with a man who wants to catch a flight and is wrongly accused of carrying a faked passport.
Lessons from One Phuket Tourist's Nightmare

Briton 'Jailed on Phuket for Being Rude'
Latest A British man says he was detained on his way out of Phuket and held in jail for ''being rude'' to an Immigration official. Phuketwan will update as more facts emerge.
Briton 'Jailed on Phuket for Being Rude'

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Hassling tourists on their way home is ridiculous! I will not come back to Thailand!

Posted by Hans Schneider on March 5, 2009 19:51

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Serves him right.
"When in Rome - do as the Roman's do"
he wont be so quick at insulting Thai officials again, that's for sure!!
Linda and Paul Australia

Posted by Linda Woodrow on March 5, 2009 20:13

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This article is only a summary of what happened and therefore the details lost do not do it justice. He was certainly agitated and so would you be but he did and does not deserve to be imprisoned. The laws of their land do not justify their actions. I also suggest Paul and Linda that you don't believe everything you read; it's not always black and white!

Posted by Sharon Treharne on March 5, 2009 22:03

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To Linda and Paul-
Can you honestly say that he deserves 2 years in an overcrowded cel,l 150+ men, for becoming agitated? He was told that his passport was fake (it wasn't) he was told he wasn't a British citizen (he is)
They refused him water, they would not inform him of what was happening with his flight, they laughed at and mimicked him. I think most people would have become a little distressed. Ok so maybe he could have chosen his words differently- but can you HONESTLY say that given those facts he deserves 2 years in that prison cell???

Posted by LKH on March 6, 2009 02:08

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Being Polite is a huge part of Thai culture. Rudeness is not accepted in any form from anyone to person of any stature in thailand. Just a friendly smile and a bow will take you a long way. I think some tourists should get an understanding of the culture before they come.

Posted by martin on March 6, 2009 05:52

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to "martin"
LKH writes: "He was told that his passport was fake (it wasn't) he was told he wasn't a British citizen (he is) They refused him water, they would not inform him of what was happening with his flight, they laughed at and mimicked him."
I hope, dear "martin" that all above happens to you next time, so you can do your best smile and bow.

Posted by claudio on March 6, 2009 09:45

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" When in Rome" What a tired cliche that really is, just useless. So we should have child sex slaves, hold gladiator fights and stab our leaders to death?
" When in Rome..."
I too cannot stand trying to "shop" in Patong, it really is not fun to have some aggressive expati woman ( yeah, where is her work permit? ) rushing over with her calculator, getting right in your face "How much you give me..." when you really just want to have a look at what's on offer.
We'll see how Thailand is in a year when things are really bad - and tourism is down - they'll be sorryyyy!

Posted by Christy Sweet on March 6, 2009 11:22

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I agree Claudio - However he should NOT have argued and got stroppy - he was punished not for having a Fake passport but for his attitude (he "failed' the attitude test very badly by all accounts) If he thinks he could get away with treating Thai authorities like he could authorities back at home he was very wrong (ever watched Border control on TV?- They are VERY rude~!))
The morale is that if your are questioned by people charged to do a job to protect their country, don't give them a hard time and try to be smart. This is simply NOT acceptable in Thai culture. Try doing that in Singapore and he may have felt the sting of the cane.

Posted by Martin on March 7, 2009 22:00

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Serves him right for arguing - We've been quite a few times and a smile is all you need. If they are going to produce the recorded transcript of his conversation with Immigration officials in court, it must be pretty strong stuff. He deserved all he gets for trying to be smart and abuse uniformed staff in authority. We've heard this in Australian airport counters and they get away with it all the time - not in Thailand. So DONT DO IT! - SIMPLE!!!

Posted by Joane Woodley - Australia on March 8, 2009 18:19

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To the "serves him right" argument - nothing in the above article or other published sources justifies imprisonment or even being treated badly at customs. without being there, it is hard to judge Simon's words at the time, but i am sure that i would have also been distressed in these circumstances and eventually quick tempered when a flight i had paid for was lost, and i was treated inhumanely by paid representatives of the thai government.
there is a lot of criticism of how the guy should have behaved, but nothing about how the thai passport control should have behaved. surely they should treat all people equally, and equally well, and be sensitive to the fact other countries have different passport control legislation? if his passport allowed him out of GB, surely it is good enough to let him return.
this already smacks of injustice, i hope the eventual trial sees an innocent verdict.
please don't criticise someone who acted in a very human manner and is currently in need of empathy, not criticism. thanks.

Posted by fernanda on March 9, 2009 06:28

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I cannot help wondering how any of us would have reacted in the same situation. Very easy to say he should have have kept his cool in hindsight.

Posted by John on March 9, 2009 23:44

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I think he was wrong to swear. However, I have had similar experience here in Thailand (and I was wearing a shirt in my passport photo)

Posted by Tom Jones on March 10, 2009 07:48

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Fernanda is wrong. This man should not have swore and been abusive as he was - he deserves all he gets - no sympathy from me - Im in a job where i get abused and have to take it

Posted by Robbo on March 10, 2009 20:02

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If his passport was suspect, how come he was allowed into the country?

Posted by Anonymous on March 16, 2009 10:01

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"Posted by Anonymous on Monday March 16, 2009 at 10:01"
WOW. Somebody hit the nail on the head. Somebody screwed up letting him in. Heehaa Head will also roll, maybe share Simon's cell hehehehe.

Posted by Anon on March 16, 2009 13:15

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"Fernanda is wrong. This man should not have sworn and been abusive as he was - he deserves all he gets - no sympathy from me - I'm in a job where i get abused and have to take it"

nice Comment Robbo, I'd quit that job if I were you, or are you in the same prison?!? (just a joke, of course)

Posted by Scam peteer on March 18, 2009 23:18

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1- We don't have all the facts e.g. what if the jailed man suffers some mental illness ? Or was he on his way to a funeral ? (extreme cases, but you get the point)
2- Isn't compassion esp in the face of ignorance a central argument of Buddhism (and Christianism etc in slightly different forms cf forgiveness, even non religious philosophical schools contain some similar humanist ideas)
3- Innocent until proven guilty incompatible with the jailing conditions suffered by the tourist
4- Last but not least, shouldn't the punishment fit the crime ? A foreigner - who demonstrably knows little about proper Thai social norms- in a Thai jail for any length of time is SERIOUSLY RISKING DEATH at worst, permanent injuries at best. How does it improve society ? Any general interest work would serve society much better...

Death or permanent injury ... for being rude ?
The tourist was rude once and we don't know the details. Those of you who show no trace of compassion in your comments, well, I feel sorry for you...extreme lack of Empathy is the very definition of sociopaths... Get a heart !

Posted by Compassionate on March 31, 2009 20:04

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Hi
I think everybody who lives here should get a copy of the book called " Working with the Thais. A guide to managing in Thailand. by Henry Holmes and Suchada Tangtongtavy, with Roy Tomizawa.

This book has been a guide to me here in Thailand. Read it then you may learn something about Thai culture.

Posted by Graham on March 31, 2009 21:13


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