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Getting that stamp at Phuket Immigration becomes all-important

Lessons from One Phuket Tourist's Nightmare

Thursday, March 5, 2009
Phuketwan News Analysis

ONE diplomatic source describes the Simon Burrowes case as ''an extremely unfortunate situation.'' There's no doubt that the tourist at the centre of the extraordinary passport affair would agree.

''I only came to Phuket for a holiday,'' he has told others. ''This is a nightmare.''

According to Immigration officials, there has not been a case like it before on Phuket. Tourists seldom finish up in jail, especially while trying to catch a flight off the island.

Several important related issues have emerged, including the quality of passport photos, standards of behavior in Thailand and elsewhere, and conditions in Phuket Jail.

Here's our take on the case:

Justice: Because of public interest in the affair, debate about various aspects is healthy. The facts need to be clearly established, and explained in court.

Passport quality: It appears most of Mr Burrowes' initial troubles were generated because of his passport photograph. Everyone with an old passport should look carefully at the image in it to assess whether it could potentially cause problems at an Immigration counter. Most countries have upgraded their requirements, insisting now that subjects look directly at the camera. But old passports have not been recalled, and some countries issue 10-year passports. In Thailand and elsewhere, a shirtless photograph is not considered riap roi (proper) and can cause offence. It appears there is no stipulation that shoulders must be covered in British passport photographs. That's a failure to take account of international convention. Any country that allows its citizens to continue to use passports issued before the world became massively concerned about terrorism clearly is not treating the issue seriously enough.

Thai reaction: The Burrowes passport was carried to the British Embassy in person by a senior official from Phuket, which shows how seriously the matter is being taken by Thai authorities. The British Embassy authenticated the passport. The fact that it is genuine, however, does not end Mr Burrowes' problems. But it should lead to an overhaul of passport photograph standards, in Britain and internationally. A passport is an individual's most important international document. It appears that in this case, Mr Burrowes' initial problems were not his fault.

Immigration 'Nightmare': Mr Burrowes has rightly characterised his experience as ''a nightmare.'' Heading for a flight home, he is forced to wait while the authenticity of his passport is questioned. Knowing that his passport is valid, and knowing that the time of his flight is drawing nearer, must have made the wait seem interminable. He has the sympathy of other travellers who can see how unnerving the situation must have become. While civilised societies urge people not to judge others on their appearance alone, professional Immigration officials everywhere begin their assessment on what they see standing before them and the image in the passport. However, a lawyer might be tempted to ask why officials apparently did not question Mr Burrowes about the validity of his passport on the way in, only on the way out.

The Incident: Immigration officials say they recorded what happened next on tape. They say Mr Burrowes swore at the official, snatched back his passport and criticised Thailand. Swearing is a no-no in Thailand in any situation. Assuming that the tape supports the official version of events, the fact that the Immigration officer was female probably made it seem even more reprehensible. While standards of general conversation in Western countries have deteriorated to the point where swearing is tolerated in some circles, anyone in uniform anywhere is likely to react in a negative way if the swear words are directed at them. Every traveller away from home needs to know enough about the culture of the country they are visiting to avoid problems caused by the use of bad language.

The Penalty: Mr Burrowes has been held in an overcrowded jail for three weeks, and forced to surrender his contentious passport while awaiting a court hearing. We hope that the time he has spent in jail and the additional expense involved in his enforced stay are taken into account. In many countries, prison accommodation before a court hearing is relatively comfortable. Remand centres, or similar facilities, reinforce the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty. With a guilty verdict, the person is usually moved to a proper jail. In many cases, people who commit non-violent crimes are imprisoned in facilities that keep them separated from killers, rapists and other social misfits. Even if Mr Burrowes is found guilty, he has surely served his penalty.

The Jail: Phuket Jail, built to hold 700, is now bursting at the seams with more than 1000 incarcerated there. While Thai officials are right when they say that all passports need to meet international standards, the same point could be made about jails.

Conclusion: If there ever was a prime example to illustrate the value of a Tourist Court, where these kinds of issues could be dealt with without undue delay, without extra cost and without unnecessary hardship, this is it. Hopefully, publicity about the Burrowes case will promote a broader understanding of Thai law and customs and the need for respectful language and behavior at all times, in all circumstances. Hopefully, justice according to Thai law will be administered in this case with an understanding of the hardship that Mr Burrowes has already experienced. And hopefully, a more equitable method of dealing with tourists who transgress will emerge from one man's nightmare.

Phuketwan's Burrowes Case File


Arguing with Phuket Immigration: Is It Safe?
Latest Questions are being asked by tourists about the case of a man who was arrested and jailed following an argument with Immigration officials at Phuket Airport. Is it too high a price to pay?
Arguing with Phuket Immigration: Is It Safe?

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

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What is the matter with these unsmiling officials at the airport?. tuk tuk rip offs, jet-ski scams, tailors on every corner, time share touts. What happened to the Land of Smiles?

Posted by Russell Jones on March 5, 2009 16:59

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Lesson learned all round then, and hopefully Mr Burrowes can be on his way soon (very unfortunate way to get one's 15 minutes of fame, though)
Once again kudos to PhuketWan.com for balance and for following up as you guys often seem to do on most stories. Your little team is setting new standards in the process. On On!

Posted by Daniel on March 5, 2009 17:32

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I was detained in England at immigration for an hour's worth of questions. I was in the south and missed my bus to London and had to wait three hours for the next one to arrive. Did I get excited? No, because there are a few people one does not mess with: Immigration, the Los Angeles Police, NYC Police. I was in a restaurant here in Rawai when a foreigner cursed at a waitress. She plucked her mobile from her pocket, called the police, and they came and arrested him.

Posted by Frank in Rawai on March 5, 2009 18:13

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Phuket has lost the plot - what tourist would go there twice? - I agree with Russel Jones (5/3/09) above in relation to the TUK-TUK and time share touts. My family and I went to Phuket for the first time in January 2009 for 10 nights and we were all sick and tired of being pestered by the scratch and win time share touts - We were asked if we "spoke English" at least 10 times each day and we were pestered with high pressure sales for about 200metres each time. That was just to get my wife and I together with our young son to agree to go along to the presentation. Even when we said we just wanted to be left alone they continued to tell us that we could have won a DVD camera or a weeks free holiday or a meal in a top restaurant. We got so sick of this that after the third day I threatened one of them and he became very abusive. The result was that my wife refused to travel from the hotel to Patong Beach after the fifth day of our holiday due to the time share people.
Tourism must be one of the most important financial resource for Phuket and we are at a loss as to why these time share touts are allowed to destroy the tourist trade.
We tried several times to fix a TUK TUK price from our hotel to Patong beach and the price asked varies so much it became a real chore each time. Why are they not on a meter?
We were in a hotel where one couple told us that their son was held to ransom for a lot of money by a jetski outfit and threatened with a beating if he failed to go to an ATM and get so many baht for getting water in a jetski motor, apparently when he approached a uniformed Police Officer on a motorcycle in Patong the officer pretended he was not able to speak any English and drove away!!
For god's sake, clear the streets of Patong of these hordes of time share touts as we will CERTAINLY never go back until they are gone!

Posted by Matin Ruane on March 5, 2009 20:00

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My wife and I have been coming to Phuket for the past 15 years. I have to agree with Matin Ruane, this trip the time share touts were unbelievable, worse still were the Nepalese tailor touts and Indian stall holders. It used to be that you could browse without being overcome as soon as you hesitate at a stall. I am sure that all of these touts and stall holders have work permits, otherwise the officials that love Thailand so much would not be letting them ruin Phuket. We to have decided it is our last trip to Phuket.

Posted by Terry on March 6, 2009 07:03

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For Gods sake PLEASE deport the time share people - They drove us NUTS and my husband and i will NEVER go back - Sorry!

Posted by katy_netherton on March 6, 2009 20:30

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There is no reason, other than greed, that another jail cannot be built and I know the official in charge has been begging for years. Where is all the tourist revenue money going ?

Posted by AnarChristy on March 8, 2009 09:20

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Re the annoying timeshare touts just ask them to see their work permit! They soon disappear!

Posted by Ivor on March 9, 2009 13:59

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i have been negatively judged by some misinformed on this and other forums. I actually waited an hour and a half while the 3 immigration staff studied my passport with an old fashioned magnifying glass. one of them chatting and laughing on her mobile in between her turns at it. That's the tip of the ill infomed iceberg but due to legal reasons i can say no more. Thank you. Simon

Posted by simon on March 10, 2009 02:23

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I love Phuket because I am a diver. However, the transportation in Phuket is horrendous. I was almost assaulted by a motorbike guy because he felt I should give him 10 baht more than the going rate. Of course I gave it to him although he still threatened me.

Posted by Tom Jones on March 10, 2009 08:08

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The tuk tuk and motorbike in Phuket is 2 to 3 times the rate in Bangkok. The last tuk tuk wanted 100 baht to go 1 mile from Bangla to my hotel. The motorbike wanted 60 baht.

Posted by Tom Jones on March 10, 2009 08:13

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Simon e-mail me at mustavamond@gmail.com if you need help
I would recommend you get on a boat and get out of Thailand, go down to Malaysia and present yourself at immigration requesting asylum.
If you stay here they will lock you up for max penalty and you will never survive the prison

Posted by Mustava Mond on March 12, 2009 10:49

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..my in & out of Thailand was getting in less eventful than getting out.. thought for sure I was going to miss my flight standing in line for over an hour waiting for my passport clearance from immigration.. oh and 'LOS', that term surely doesn't apply to Thai immigration officials from my experience there.

Posted by Jaybar on July 27, 2010 00:17

Editor Comment:

From time to time, Immigration officers are asked to lighten up a little. But it's not an easy task when the queue is long and they must sense people just want to get on with arriving or leaving. Is there anywhere in the world with smiles and floral garlands, even for departing passengers?


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