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The void inside the death truck where 121 people were crammed

Phuket Hopes and Dreams, Suffocated in a Death Truck

Friday, December 28, 2012
News Analysis

PHUKET: Back in 2008, Phuketwan reporters travelled north to Ranong to see with our own eyes the young Burmese who emerged alive from a ''death truck'' that was heading for Phuket.

Most of them were extremely young, many of them female, and, it seemed to us, vulnerable. There is no doubt that they would also have been deeply traumatised by their experience.

One-hundred-and-twenty-one of them set out to ride inside a refrigerated container truck from Ranong, a port on the Burma-Thai border, to Phuket.

There was no air supply. When the truck was eventually opened by the astonished driver, 54 of them were dead. It must have been horrific.

The survivors? They were dealt with by a court in Ranong for being illegal immigrants, seved time in jail, then packed off to Burma once their sentences had been completed.

Phuketwan interviewed the Governor of Ranong and she made a special plea to the Burmese authorities to treat the survivors leniently.

Going back down the highway to Phuket, we stopped off at the spot on the road where the container was still being kept at the local police station.

Night was falling, but the police at the station opened the back door of the truck for us. It was a spooky experience.

We've seen some grim sights before and since, but this was like looking into . . . Hell.

The policeman in charge of the station provided us with photographs, taken immediately after the doors had been opened.

We've never looked at them.

In the yard were other vehicles impounded because they had been apprehended carrying Burmese illegally. Some of them were ingenious, holes under what appeared to be full loads on pickups.

It was our first encounter with the experience of illegal Burmese, migrating south to Phuket, full of hopes and dreams of a better life.

In the yard at Immigration in Ranong, we saw other arrested people being herded onto trucks, to be transported back across the estuary . . . or perhaps, we now know, handed over to people traffickers.

For us, it was revealing, and life-changing. Instead of being journalists in a comfortable office on Phuket, recycling news agency copy about events on Phuket's doorstep, we made the trip for ourselves.

A few months later, we made another trip north, to find the secret island where the Rohingya boatpeople were being held by the Thai military.

Our lives changed forever by those trips that turned us from copy editors behind desks on Phuket into investigative reporters.

Four years on, it's good to hear via the news agency reports that justice has been done, that four people have been sent to jail for their involvement in the shocking crime.

What would be even more heartening is if a few more copy editors on Phuket ceased recycling news agency copy and took to the road north to see for themselves.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Harrowing article. I suspect many more were involved, but I guess we take what we can. Shame the situation hasn't progressed much in the last 4 years. Shows the importance authoritories place on human trafficking - didn't the Prime Minister just promise to turn a blind eye, er, extend registration dates for illegal (presumably trafficed ?) workers BECAUSE THAI BUSINESSES COULDN'T COPE WITHOUT THEM ? Not very ethical. Maybe I'm mistaken. With boats and mini-buses (!) trafficking poor Burmese forced to look for work elsewhere and asylum seeeking Ronhigya setting out on more perilous journeys Burma's neighbours need to take a stand - and not "we like cheap vulnerable labour that can be forced to work in fish factories and trawlers where they may be transferred for boat to boat for years without returning to land". Until they snap from the physical abuse and machete the captain death. Just doesn't seem like a good system to me. However I'm sure some people are making a lot of money and the status quo will remain. Politicians - anyone who wants to be one - should be immediately dismissed as a candidate.

Posted by James on December 29, 2012 16:54

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