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Burmese who wanted to go to Phuket but are now bound for Burma

Phuket Just a Dream for Arrested Boatload of 44 Burmese, Ripped Off by People Trafficker

Monday, July 18, 2011
PHUKET: A boatload of 44 Burmese who set sail for the holiday island of Phuket and the prospect of good wages and a better life were arrested at sea by the Royal Thai Navy about 5pm yesterday.

One of the apprehended Burmese told navy interrogators that each of the 30 men and 12 women who set out for Phuket - with two infants - paid 20,000 baht to a people smuggler to try to reach the prosperous holiday destination.

''We were promised jobs for 6500 baht, plus accommodation and food,'' said one woman, Jeza, aged 23. ''We were prepared to take our chances.''

Opponents of the newly-elected Pheu Thai Party's plan to raise the minimum wage on Phuket and in Thailand to 300 baht a day have warned that the sudden increase would trigger a wave of illegal migration from surrounding countries.

But it's not known whether the people arrested by the navy yesterday were aware of the controversial pay proposal. The prospect of a better life on Phuket may have been sufficient, even with a Thai high of 221 baht as the minimum wage.

A navy spokesperson said that the seven-metre vessel was intercepted between Prayam Island and Chang Island off mainland Ranong by the navy patrol ship, Hua Hin 541.

The smuggler's boat had departed from Victoria Point, the Burmese port opposite the Thai border town of Ranong. Both ports are familiar to expats making visa border runs from Phuket.

The Hua Hin carried its human cargo and towed the smuggler's confiscated boat to the fishing port of Kuraburi in Phang Nga, between Ranong and Phuket.

One of those on board the arrested vessel, Tery, aged 43, confessed to owning the boat and admitted to having agreed with the unidentified people trafficker to ferry the human cargo from Burma to Phuket for a fee of 5000 baht.

The Burmese were kept overnight on the navy vessel. At first light today, the group was transferred to a truck and transported to the Immigration detention centre in Ranong.

Most Burmese travelling to Phuket prefer to try their luck on the road rather than by sea. Subterfuges seem to work and smuggled people are seldom discovered - unless there are disasters.

In 2008, the air-conditioning failed on a seafood container truck bound for Phuket and 54 of more than 100 people inside suffocated to death. The survivors, after serving a short sentence in place of a fine, were quickly sent back to Burma.

Navy patrols have intensified off Phuket and the Andaman coast since the Muslim Rohingya boatpeople, denied citizenship in Burma and persecuted by the military junta, began making perilous boat trips south a few years ago in the hope of finding sanctuary in Thailand or Malaysia.

While the illegal Burmese are returned to Ranong where they are likely to serve a short sentence before being repatriated, 68 Rohingya boatpeople who made it to Phuket in January remain captive in two groups, incarcerated on Phuket and in Phang Nga.

The stateless would-be refugees, including boys as young as 12, face a timeless physical and mental torment in Thailand, with no prospect of release or of being granted refugee status.

Another group of Rohingya apprehended in Ranong early in 2009 is still being held in Bangkok, two-and-a-half-years later.
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