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Passengers exit Phuket airport the right way, through International. Outside, where chaos continues, buses pick up passengers in the packed carpark

No Visas: Immigration Arrested Honest Couple

Tuesday, May 14, 2013
PHUKET: An international row has erupted over the arrest of a young French couple and their 22-month-old child. The family arrived on a flight at Phuket International Airport and left the terminal without being processed by Immigration.

In all, 10 passengers from a Qatar Airways flight took a wrong turn earlier this month before collecting their bags and walked out into the humid Phuket air without arrival cards or visas.

The blunder was only discovered days later when the honest French couple, on their first trip overseas, took the trouble to return to Phuket airport so the error could be corrected.

Instead of behaving with good grace and gratitude, Immigration officers arrested the French couple with their young daughter and took all three to a police station not far from Phuket airport to be charged.

The couple were later made to appear in court, fined and sentenced to a suspended jail term, then at the end of their holiday escorted onto a departing flight as though they were criminals being deported.

Incensed French embassy officials are now asking questions at the highest levels on Phuket and in Bangkok about why the young family was treated in such an appalling fashion on what should have been a pleasant Phuket vacation.

It's not known what the outcome was for the other seven passengers on Qatar flight QR624 on May 4 who also took a wrong turn and bypassed the normal Immigration process before collecting their luggage at Phuket airport.

The likelihood is they were not arrested, were not fined, and will not be treated like criminals when they depart from Phuket.

Phuketwan has a list of the passengers' names but does not plan to publish it at this stage. The list includes the French family and another French woman, two Jordanians, a Russian, a Lithuanian a Kuwaiti and a Lebanese.

Instead of joining the other 110 passengers off QR624 in filing to the Immigration arrivals hall before picking up their luggage, the 10 took a wrong turn, collected their luggage, then left through a Domestic exit on the evening of May 4.

The first-trip holiday family did not realise anything was amiss. Then on May 8 they went to book a day-trip around Phang Nga Bay.

The person making the booking checked their passports and told the couple they should have visa stamps and arrival cards.

The honest pair went straight back to Phuket airport, where Immigration officers questioned them. Five staff from Qatar Airways also became involved.

Soon after, Immigration escorted the family to Tachatchai Police Station, in north Phuket, closest police station to the airport.

There, at least one police officer is believed to have questioned the wisdom of charging the adults with illegal entry. A Qatar Air representative was with the family.

Immigration insisted that the couple be charged and also insisted on a letter being provided by the French Ambassador before the couple were granted bail of 20,000 baht each.

The airline met the bail terms.

The French couple, travelling overseas for the first time with no intention of entering Phuket illegally, appeared in Phuket Provincial Court on May 9.

At first, officials said they would have to wait in the cells but the presence of the 22-month-old child encouraged officials to make an exception and allowed them to wait in a staff room.

A judge fined the couple 2000 baht each for entering Phuket illegally and imposed a sentence of two months' jail, suspended on condition they were of good behavior for one year.

The couple and their daughter boarded a flight home yesterday, having been made to wait until all the other passengers were on board before being escorted to the entryway by an Immigration officer.

An undated letter from BAGS Ground Services, addressed to the Superintendent of Immigration at Phuket International Airport, has been sighted by Phuketwan.

The letter notes the ''misunderstanding'' by 10 passengers from QR624. BAGS handles luggage arrangements for Qatar Airways at Phuket International Airport.

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i was on a four day stay in Phuket from Pattaya on the 27thApril until 1stMay i found it very misleading at the immigration exits and could have easily have made the same mistake although i had already entered into Thailand through Bangkok on 10th April i wonder if this is helping tourism or putting more people off going to Phuket with such attitudes from officials who should be there to help foreigners at arrivals instead of leaving them to there own means.

Posted by David Hindhaugh on May 14, 2013 18:53

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unbelievable !!!

Posted by serge on May 14, 2013 18:54

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What a totally pathetic reaction from the immigration.Seems like a face staving reaction for being so incompetent at letting people exit via the the domestic exit.

Posted by richie on May 14, 2013 18:57

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This innocent mistake doesnt say much for airport security,other than lax and considering global religious fanatic activity, the quality tourists the tourism Minister desires here for a family holliday just got deeply offended along with the french Nation Phuket you made your own bed lie in it.

Posted by slickmelb on May 14, 2013 18:59

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Disgraceful. Obviouly they did not oil enough wheels. Anyway, don't you have to go through immigration before collecting your bags?

Posted by stu on May 14, 2013 19:01

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Unbelievable. Another great advert for Amazing Thailand.

Posted by Neil A on May 14, 2013 19:02

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At peak times well meaning officials 'fast track' passengers with children or aging passengers through the far right lane as you enter immigration.
Obviously something went wrong this time.

Posted by Anonymous on May 14, 2013 19:04

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Welcome to Phuket, Thailand welcomes all our French friends with a warm smile and a prison cell...

Posted by Ian Hannaford on May 14, 2013 19:13

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Admitting mistakes is not one of the strongest sides of this society, the officer that questioned the wisdom of charging the couple with illegal entry should have taken it a step further and charged the immigration department for dereliction of their duty . As far as I recall one cannot question a court's decision so I shall refrain from doing so.

Posted by Sailor on May 14, 2013 19:21

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The mentality of these Thai officials involved is beyond belief and speaks volumes.
I feel so sorry for these people and their 22 month old child and doubt if they will be returning to Phuket.

Posted by Rod on May 14, 2013 19:26

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The silliest illegal entry episode ever.
The angry English guy with his nude picture passport comes to mind. That's now no. 2.

In this case, airport immigration is not with glory.

And the staff of the airport should be sacked who let the group of 10 wonder the wrong way. Sometimes it is just that easy to go the wrong way, if you do not know.

Posted by Lena on May 14, 2013 19:29

Editor Comment:

The blame for the entry of the passengers without visas should probably be shared by the airline and the airport. From what we are told, there was nobody guiding these people through the present airport chaos. The reaction to disclosure of the chaos belongs solely to Immigration.

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It's extremely easy to bypass the immigration system at present by just continuing down the walkway to the domestic exit. a simple tape across the walkway when international flights arrive would alleviate this. Also very easy to walk into the international arrivals area from the outside as there is no control on the doors. I once arrived on a domestic flight, walked into the international area and got duty free service.

Pretty rough treatment for the couple who did the right thing and were honest about their situation but I guess its their fault not slack practices!

Posted by Mister Ree on May 14, 2013 19:38

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Shocking! What sort of message does this send? Welcome to Phuket - no need to book accommodation - let immigration do that for you.

Posted by Logic on May 14, 2013 19:58

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They were not really punished for breaking any laws but rather for pointing out the gross negligence and mistakes made by the immigration.

This embarrassment caused them loss of face (naa taeg) and to regain it they took their revenge on this couple.

In Thailand the person who points out the mistakes or malice someone does is seen as the troublemaker, not the wrongdoer.

Being a foreigner makes it even worse because "this is not your country !", meaning of course you have no right to tell anyone anything and if you don't like it, just get out (Ok Pai!)

This is the "Thainess" I will never assimilate with.

It's inconceivable that these are the same people who are so concerned about the reputation of Thailand yet can behave in such unbelievably damaging ways themselves when saving face is at stake.

Thai hospitality is still world famous but on Phuket it is so for all the wrong reasons.

I hope the French government demands an official, public apology and financial compensation for hardship endured.

I can only imagine how terrified their child must have been.

Posted by Stephen on May 14, 2013 20:03

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thai people forgot that tourism is an important part of their economy, especially phuket. I feel sorry for this young people.

shame on this immigration officer, hope tourist will spend their money in an other country.

Posted by safar on May 14, 2013 20:21

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Lets hope this incident is reported widely in the French and European mainstream media rather than just the Thai local press

Posted by Scunner on May 14, 2013 20:42

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ed, could this sad story not be brought to the attention of the governor? maybe he has some idea what could be done to not leave this people with such bad memories alone and also how it can be avoided that something like this happens again.

Posted by jonny on May 14, 2013 23:26

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not likely they will return to thailand.

Posted by fw on May 15, 2013 00:45

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Have sent this story to ALL major newspapers in Europe, for and warn people to get holiday in Thailand, many people have big problem whit the Emigration in Thailand especially Phuket.

Posted by wonder on May 15, 2013 08:18

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The family it self and the 7 others should have been surprised not to have there passports checked or stamped. I had a similar experience in Wellington were we walked to the gate for a domestic flight without security checks, at the gate I checked with the staff who told us that there are no checks for domestic flights in Nz.

Posted by Eric on May 15, 2013 08:35

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I've always had an issue with Phuket immigration officers. They all seem to come to work in a foul mood and have absolutely no hospitality genes in them. When I first came to Phuket it was all about Thai hospitality that made me want to stay on. I hope the authorities clamp down hard on the immigration team and push them into showing better hospitality. They are the first and last people the tourists would meet on the island and hope they give the right impression to continue to bring guests in.

Posted by May on May 15, 2013 08:42

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On a related note, security is INCREDIBLY lax at Phuket airport. I fly domestic on average once per week, and international maybe twice per month. And at the domestic security check in particular they can hardly even bother to wave the metal detector at you. Never ever "computer out" and the staff are all busy gossiping and the person watching the x-ray screen is usually eating. On top of all that they are also pretty rude. It's a WORLD away from for example Suvarnabhumi. Or almost any airport in the world. Phuket Airport is a terrorists' dream. You could probably get a gun or explosives through the security check something like 9 out of 10 times.
As for the immigration BS in Phuket, I always try my utmost to make sure I go through immigration in BKK. Yes, it means I have to check in again upstairs at Suvarnabhumi, but that's a small price to pay to not have to deal with Immigration at Phuket Airport. And the lines are never very long at THAI domestic check in anyway, I highly recommend doing this if you have enough time between flights. Check in to BKK only!

Posted by christian on May 15, 2013 09:09

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Absolutely shocking I really feel very sorry for this French couple, bet they wont be going back to Phuket again in a hurry. Whats the point of being honest if you get treated like a crim and penalised and treated so badly? Nothing will happen to the others that went through the wrong exit. At what point will Phuket airport officials take some responsibility as to how people can actually walk out without going through Immigration, its probably happened before. They should relook at their set out at the airport??

Posted by Jenny on May 15, 2013 09:10

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@ Stephen.... Well said and the hammer on the nail..

Posted by Frog on May 15, 2013 10:34

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as a Citizen french i have wrote to the ambassador to asking make a statement and request a official apology from Thai Gov, i have even written to some famous french news in order to show this Story under the spot light have a good day

Posted by french on May 15, 2013 11:22

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A very unfortunate incident, I agree. However the "piling on" by the commenters here speaks volumes about Phuket Wan's readership. What an angry, embittered lot!

Let's be honest : No matter how unwittingly, the couple did enter the country illegally. Clearly. this could have been handled much much better, but let's also put this in perspective by remembering that millions of foreigners pass through immigration on Phuket annually. Let's hope this is an isolated incident.

Posted by matt on May 15, 2013 11:56

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Eric - would you believe if they told you pigs could fly. Of course they have security checks on internal flights! A plane crash still kills people even if it is domestic.

Posted by Lost In Translation on May 15, 2013 13:26

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@Stephen.... you are The Man !

Posted by Rod on May 15, 2013 13:55

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where is my comment mr. dictator?

Posted by mike on May 15, 2013 16:53

Editor Comment:

Where it deserves to be, mike. Try taking the hint from Winston Churchill: ''I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.'' Add some value or provide new information, please.

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This airport is a mess on so many levels and the french couple nearly comically showed only one freaking flaw.

Landing: No taxiway at the runway until the near the buildings. Plane crowding the only runway way too long. But maybe better, because the airport is just too SMALL. Everything is just too SMALL.

Exit the plane: Sometimes people are there to tell you, domestic here and international there, you can maybe even see a little sign (funny one) but passengers CAN choose, where to go. What joke is that? Security by assistance of the possible culprit?

Immigration: long lines, long procedures with 30days on arrival. Heavy workload for officers, who shall not make a mistake. Tourists with not well written arrival cards take time. What about a two point check, first check, if domestic or international and if international if card is filled properly, if not go to some place and fill it first.

Or even better, why not let the airlines have to provide with the ticket a (machine readable) arrival card to print out at home or at check in, with all arrival data, personal data, and only (if not available to the airline) hotel and departure have to be filled in extra. Btw, immigration: big room, low hight, lots of lots of people, where to go in case of emergency? Better not think of.

I do not want to start on the Taxi/Bus thing, but it is obvious, that the parking and the exit/entrance areas of this airport are too SMALL. You have to wonder, how they can process so many passengers in and out this little shitty place. They can, but without any comfort for the guests. It is a totally stressful, loud, heated, crowded, scary, scammy experience of an airport.

And departure is not much better, even worse. You arrive and your lucky the crowds will let you leave behind the "security" zone at the entrence at times. As it is so full of people with luggage waiting in out of control check-in crowds. The departure area is a gigantic hazard risk area. Mass panics, fire, explosion, gun fire, name it and think of the totally full departure area and you know, there will be a great number of casualties. It is just way too SMALL for the packed inside number of people.

I mean, BER is a joke, as it is ready build since 2 years but not to open thanks to fire regulations, but compared to the situation at HKT it would be a dream come true.

The handling of this overcrowding is leading to all kind of shortcuts in the area of flight and airport security. I will not go into details, but most should be known to anyone with open eyes. Every plane from HKT should be considered compromised security.

Posted by Lena on May 15, 2013 17:26

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Am curious what would happen to a Thai couple who'd illegally entered the UK, France or any other country in such a manner.

Posted by Bert on May 15, 2013 19:28

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Mike, he will not print anything that hits a nerve. BUT, he will then print your follow up and try and belittle you. I think it is just unfair Thai prejudice towards westereners.

Posted by MadMike on May 16, 2013 08:23

Editor Comment:

We have nothing against ''westereners,'' MadMiike. Our only prejujudice is against valueless opinions.

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Ed, my last comment which you did not print was an accurate picture of Thailand. Why did you not print it?

Posted by Lost In Translation on May 16, 2013 16:50

Editor Comment:

We'd be happy to carry your account of your own experience but not the conjecture in which you use the term 'the Thai mind.' Unless you have spoken to every Thai. the use of the term 'the Thai mind' is as biased and unfair as it would be applied to any nation. There is no such thing.

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Ed, I think you are taking "Mind" too accurately can you change it to psyche and print it then?

Posted by Lost In Translation on May 16, 2013 17:35

Editor Comment:

Not unless you can provide me with proof there is such a thing as ''the American psyche'' or ''the British psyche.'' There is no such thing.

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so much fun read phuketwan.com..... only in Phuket happen so many things everyday....

Posted by marco on May 16, 2013 20:57

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you make me sick with your comments about my comments. how you can say add something? or new information? do i work for you? you really act like a thai. you are anyway very well connected and thats why i can not trust you. a guy who always publish id cards of death people and have pictures from crimes first...how you can do that without being on the thai side???? i will stop comment here and stop reading your dictator website....

Posted by mike on May 19, 2013 17:19

Editor Comment:

This site is based in Thailand, mike, which means we try to balance truth and accuracy in our reports for all readers, regardless of their background, while staying within the laws of Thailand. Journalists in Thailand are often allowed freedom of access denied in other so-called democracies. We don't take sides, but it does appear that you do. If my comments make you sick, davidj and Phuket_IOC can probably recommend a good doctor. He or she may even be able to operate to remove your unhealthy bias.

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(moderated)

Posted by Phuket_IOC on May 20, 2013 07:32

Editor Comment:

RISING LEVELS of intolerance in Phuketwan's Comments section have led to a new editorial policy. Comments that fail to comply with normal standards of civility will no longer be published. 'We've given the stirrers a fair go,' said the editor. 'It's a pity their bile knows no limits.' All readers remain invited to add personal insights, fresh ideas and new information.

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Mike, while I agree that the moderation is sometimes one sided, a comment like yours 'how you can do that without being on the thai side????' makes me understand the moderation a bit better.
I presume you're on the farang side?

Posted by stevenl on May 20, 2013 09:51

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#Phuket_IOC, DavidJ, Mike:
Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance. (Anon)
Try ThaiVisa!

Posted by Pete on May 20, 2013 12:39

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This is the way to attract more tourists.

Posted by Nill Peter on May 20, 2013 14:36

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hello, we want to thank you for the interest shown in this article. Our first visit to Phuket was amazing ... At the airport we get our luggage without any control, worried we presented to the Immigration department to report them, and we were arrested. We had a pleasant holiday with our daughter, we spent two days at the police station and criminal court. It is inadmissible to treat tourists this way. We contacted the French media to share this experience, we initiated procedures with Qatar Airways and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We thank those who helped us, including Tourist Police, without which we would probably be in prison.

Posted by elodie on May 22, 2013 21:32

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To lost in translation, if you had been to NZ you should be able to confirm our experience, so as long as you not have been, keep your comments, go and experience.

Posted by Eric on May 23, 2013 18:24

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Why Should they pay 2000 baht each it was the airport fault for not having the right exit for them. That was good of the judge for giving them Two months jail Suspended if they are good, soon the only people who will go to phuket and that will be the wrong kind, phuket thinks its the only place in the world, patong stinks like a tip you could not pay me to stay there, Amazing Thailand. I once stayed at a hotel in kata a 4star hotel, the day befor I hired a motor bike from patong, the next morning the bloke that I got the bike of came to my Breakfast table were I was staying with my family, he said you give me money now you break my bike I only drove the bike back from patong to kata and it was fine when I parked it, I said you are not getting any money from me, this was still why we were having breakfast he pulled his shirt up and he had a pistol down his jeans he said get the money now, there was two of them and my family were crying why he took me to a ATM Machine to get him 400 baht that was five years ago and we have not been back and never will.

Posted by Robert on July 3, 2013 13:07


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