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Phuket child-exploitation gangs put in the spotlight

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET: A 12-year-old girl fleeing her captors to the safety of officials on Soi Bangla last week, has raised the ugly specter of Phuket becoming a prime human-trafficking and child-exploitation destination, according an international children’s rights agency.

The girl, nicknamed “Aoi” to protect her identity, ran up to Patong Deputy Mayor Chairat Sukban and about 10 other officers on night patrol on December 11, saying that she and some of her friends had been taken away from their parents in Cambodia under the pretense that they would be trained as nannies for high-society families in Patong.

“After we got here, the men forced us to steal tourists’ bags. We had to steal one or two times a night – they were always watching us, and if we didn’t steal something, we weren’t allowed to eat,” Aoi said.

“They said they would attack our parents back home if we did not do what they said,” she explained.

“The men said anytime we see Mr Chairat we must run away… This time I decided to run to you asking for help. I want to go home. I miss my parents.”

Aoi had been arrested on Soi Bangla many times. However, every time she was arrested, a Vietnamese man, claiming to be her father, would show up and take her away, explained Mr Chairat.

“Many Vietnamese and Cambodians are involved in the alien-beggar scams, and we are sure that the group of men that were holding Aoi [captive] are Vietnamese,” he added.

Patong Police Superintendent Chiraphat Pochanaphan told the Gazette that his officers were searching for Aoi’s imposter father. However, Col Chiraphat gave no name or description of the man.

“We are now searching for the man who claimed to be her father… Patong Police are coordinating with Social Development and Welfare officers in the search for the man,” he said.

“At this stage, this is the only information I can reveal,” he added.

An officer at the Social Development and Welfare Phuket office told the Gazette that Aoi was now safe and under the department’s care and protection program.

“Officers are now working on sending her back home to Cambodia. I don’t know how long this will take. We can only take good care of her and coordinate with the relevant authorities on getting her home,” she said.

However, the welfare officer also said she could not comment on what action was being undertaken to protect other children at risk on the streets of Patong.

The silence on the issue has prompted at least one children’s rights organization to speak out, warning that Aoi’s flight to safety might be the tip of the iceberg once the Asean Economic Community (AEC) comes into effect in 2015 with its expanded allowances for worker migration.

“I was not previously aware of this particular story [regarding Aoi]. However, children selling flowers are found at tourist destinations all over Thailand,” Nutthawut Buaprathum, a lawyer at the Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights Foundation (CPCRF), said.

“I personally do not care what the police and local Social Development and Welfare officers say they can or cannot reveal about the case. What I want to know is what are they actually doing about it.

“I wonder if the police are taking serious action on investigating the case further, or whether they just let the children go after the ‘parents’ show up,” he added.

Mr Nutthawut expressed grave concern about the impact the AEC will have on Phuket. “The Asean Economic Community is coming. I wonder how the government will handle this issue. Phuket is a top tourist destination that already attracts child-exploitation gangs that force children to work as beggars and street peddlers.

“I can see that government officers would like to pretend that Phuket is not a human-trafficking destination because it will affect tourism and might even prompt international pressure from other countries. But if the government does not take serious action on this, there will be a lot more of these people coming in the next three years – and the problem will only get worse,” he said.

Mr Nutthawut explained that CFRE is part of the international network Children on the Move. “This issue is our top priority for the next three years. What we can foresee, with the arrival of the AEC, is the chance for children to exchange education, knowledge and culture. However, once it is easy to come and go among Asean member nations, there will likely be more people attempting to take advantage of this,” he explained.

Deputy Mayor Chairat, who is often seen personally patrolling the streets of Patong, told the Gazette that the role of municipality officers in taking action against such gangs of street peddlers was limited.

“This issue is not only about children selling flowers on the street, but involves human trafficking. We have passed news of this to the police, Social Development and Welfare officers and senior officers at Provincial Hall who now know about this as well,” Mayor Chairat said.

“However, all we can do with children or other people who are caught annoying tourists is charge them with being a public nuisance and fine them up to 2,000 baht each time.

“If we catch a child unaccompanied on the streets and we take him or her in, there is nothing we can do if the child tells us that the person who comes to claim them is their parent, uncle, aunt or other form of guardian,” he said.

“Arresting the people who run these gangs is under the police’s responsibility. We can only coordinate with and support the police at their request,” Mr Chairat added.

— Chutharat Plerin

 

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Phuket

British citizens fined 6,000 baht each for illegal ‘party’ in Phuket

Tim Newton

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An unedited video circulating, showing Phuket police raiding an illegal gathering in Cherngtalay, ended up with 2 UK citizens, working in Phuket, being fined 6,000 baht each. The Cherngtalay police are also calling on another 4 foreigners attending the party to present themselves to the police station to be charged as well.

Cherngtalay Police descended on the property around 5pm on Sunday following a tip-off from residents in the same street.

The video shows the police at the front gate of the property demanding entry… “Open, open, open the door… now!” The people inside the gate shouted back “no party”. The policeman leading the raid was Capt Prasan Ketsaro. Despite a number of other foreigners, and Thais, at the gathering, only the 2 British people attending the event were fined after being taken to the station.

British citizens fined 6,000 baht each for illegal 'party' in Phuket | News by ThaigerThey were officially charged with “acting against the Communicable Diseases Act, BE 2558 and the Phuket Provincial Order #2284/2564 Section 5,” according to the police report.

At the end of April the Phuket governor made an announcement, tightening restrictions for the island province.

“For social activities, all people must refrain gathering for celebration, such as birthday parties, welcome or farewell parties, or others, except traditional events, such as funerals, weddings, or ordination.”

At the time the vice governor of Phuket said that foreigners breaking the rule could also be subject to being deported. Foreign consular officials were also invited to the provincial offices with Governor asking them to ensure the citizens they represented would abide by the current rules and restrictions.

The video of what appears to be an afternoon soirée, complete with alcoholic drinks and a barbecue, was deemed by the attending police to be in clear contravention of the current restrictions, a point that the lead police officer, doing all the talking, kept making as he beckoned everyone inside the house to come out.

“Everybody, outside. Come one, come on, outside!”

None of the foreigners were wearing face masks in the early phases of the video although the Thai people inside the property either were, or were quick to put them on as the cameras were rolling.

The police kept berating and accusing the people inside the property… “you come for party”. They pointed to a pile of iced drinks on the verandah of the property (which contained wine, beer and other beverages)… “what is this, what is this?”

Any conversation was a bit one-sided with the Captain doing most of the talking whilst the owners of the property, and their guests, were at least trying to explain their situation.

The accusations were flying thick and fast “Why party?! You party!”

The foreigners insisted it wasn’t a party and were trying to reason with the police about the intentions of the afternoon’s gathering but the police had already made up their mind.

The lead police told the accused that they could take photos of the ‘raid’. The Thaiger has decided not to air the video but have shared some edited screenshots.

British citizens fined 6,000 baht each for illegal 'party' in Phuket | News by ThaigerBritish citizens fined 6,000 baht each for illegal 'party' in Phuket | News by ThaigerBritish citizens fined 6,000 baht each for illegal 'party' in Phuket | News by Thaiger

A lot of the social media commentary about the incident has focussed on whether the gathering was a “party” or not and accusations that the attending police were just after some tea money.

“The high crimes and misdemeanours of having drinks and a BBQ in your garden “

“What party? Even the mosque in Bang Tao is packed everyday, local Thai restaurants are packed – this it outrageous.”

“Pretty strange…. a good way to make money.”

“What a country this place is turning into.”

“The video is on all the Thai news site… and it not look like a party at all.”

The names of the people involved in the raid have been published in other media.

 

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Thailand

Americans in Thailand urge US to provide Covid-19 vaccines to citizens overseas

Tanutam Thawan

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Stock photo by Mufid Majnun for Unsplash

Thai officials say expats living in Thailand will be included in the government’s mass Covid-19 vaccination plan, but exactly when that will be is still up in the air. With foreign embassies in Thailand clearly stating that they will not assist with providing citizens living overseas with vaccines, expats are relying on the Thai government.

A number of Americans are now urging the US government to provide Covid-19 vaccines to citizens living in Thailand. And with the recent outbreak linked to the more contagious variant of the virus, getting a vaccine in Thailand has become more pressing.

A “Covid-19 Vaccine Task Force” of Democrats Abroad Thailand members, as well as those from American organisations based in Thailand, is calling on the US government to deliver vaccines to citizens living in Thailand, chairperson of Democrats Abroad Thailand and a United Nations consultant, Paul Risley, told VOA.

“Americans who live abroad need to be vaccinated for the same reasons that Americans who live in the United States need to be vaccinated… Because it’s the only way to stop Covid-19.”

If an American were to travel back to the US for a vaccine, they would still need to stay in a hotel or certified facility for a 14-day quarantine at their own expense when re-entering Thailand. Along with getting together the required paperwork, they would need to go through numerous Covid-19 tests including before the flight, upon arrival and before being released from quarantine. The flights to and from the US can end up being more than 20 hours per trip and add up to thousands of dollars in travel costs.

For the vast majority of Americans in Thailand, flying back to the US is the only way to get vaccinated at the moment. The US Embassy in Bangkok says vaccines will not be provided for US citizens living overseas.

The Department of State does not provide direct medical care, including vaccinations, to private U.S. citizens abroad. We are committed to providing all possible consular assistance to U.S. citizens in need overseas, including by providing information on local medical resources when appropriate. Please follow host country developments and guidelines for COVID-19 vaccination.

At a recent Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration meeting, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “all people who reside in Thailand, regardless of their nationality, are eligible to receive the vaccine under the government’s plan.”

Mass vaccination campaigns are being rolled out in high-risk areas, such as Bangkok’s Khlong Toey slum where a cluster of infections was reported, as well as Phuket and Koh Samui, tourist islands that are said to be of “economic significance.” Health officials are trying to hit herd immunity on the 2 islands to reopen to foreign tourists.

Expats in Phuket who have a valid work permit can now register for a state Covid-19 vaccine. The registration must be under the company name and expats are told to have the company’s human resources staff assist with the registration process.

While no official announcement has been made regarding expats in Koh Samui, some foreigners who work as English teachers on the island say they have received both doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine. Schools apparently helped with the registration process, but some teachers say they told to keep quiet about getting the vaccine. Some did not receive a vaccine certificate or any other documentation confirming that they are vaccinated against the coronavirus.

SOURCE: VOA

 

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Phuket

ICU beds for Covid-19 patients in Phuket are close to a “critical” low

Tanutam Thawan

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FILE PHOTO

Covid-19 patients in severe condition may have to been transferred from a government hospital in Phuket to a private hospital as the number of available hospital beds at public intensive care units in Phuket is close to a “critical” low, according to Vachira Phuket Hospital Director Chalermpong Sukontapol.

There are 9 ICU rooms at the Vachira Phuket Hospital. 5 are being used for Covid-19 patients with severe symptoms while the other 4 rooms are for those with mild symptoms and are under observation before being moved to another bed.

“If the 9 rooms are full of severe symptom cases, that will be a big critical stage. We may need to transfer our patients to other provinces or private hospitals, which may involve additional costs.”

He says 50% of the Covid-19 patients in Phuket are asymptomatic while 30% have mild symptoms and 10% have severe symptoms. For most of those with severe symptoms, the virus has moved to their lungs and they are in need of special equipment, like ventilators, to help them breathe and Charlempong says those patients need to be under close observation.

SOURCE: Phuket News

 

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