RANONG: Twelve foreign tourists were pulled off a “visa run” bus just 40 miles from Ranong and confined to a jail cell overnight for overstaying their visas.
The company that arranged the tour claims that the arresting officers, from the Tourist Police and Highway Police, demanded 5,000 baht from each of the overstayed tourists in exchange for letting them go. The police deny this.
Six officers waved over the well-known “Big Bus” run by Phenpat Co Ltd at about 11 am yesterday in Ranong’s Kapoe District. The officers inspected the passports of the 34 foreign passengers and found that 12 had overstayed their visas.
They separated the 12 from the others, who were allowed to continue on to Ranong. The 12 were taken off in a police truck and confined in the local police cells.
Jutarat Payonchart, an employee of Phenpat Co Ltd, told the Gazette from the Ranong courthouse this afternoon that the police had overreacted by incarcerating the visa runners.
“Why did they have to keep them overnight in a cell? These aren’t illegal aliens trying to hide out in the country,” she asked, adding that most were just one- or two-day overstays. The maximum overstay was just 12 days, she added.
K. Jutharat said she was preparing to pay fines for those who had not brought along enough money to cover the unexpected expense – but by 5:30 pm the following day they were still at Ranong Provincial Court trying to pay the fines.
One of those arrested, a 31-year-old Australian man whose 30-day tourist visa expired the day before, told the Gazette: “It was terrible. I am so dirty now – I need to change my clothes. We didn’t have any information.
“It was crap. The police are hospitable in a way, but they don’t give us any information. They say we broke the law and all this stuff.
“In my case, on Tuesday I went to [Phuket] Immigration and said, ‘This is the last day of my visa, it expires tomorrow, what should I do?’ and they said, ‘Go and do a visa run tomorrow and pay a 200 baht overstay.’
“That’s exactly what I [was doing], but then we get pulled over by the Tourist Police and Highway Police and they make a huge problem for us,” he said.
He added that he found it dangerous and embarrassing to be forced to squat in the back of a cramped, hot police truck, which transported the overstayers along the highway with a police escort, sirens blaring.
The unexpected delay had also caused him to miss his flight out of the country, he said.
Pol Maj Songproad Sirikul, the new head of the Ranong Tourist Police, told the Gazette that his office had received a report that a business was assisting illegal aliens by bringing them to Burma. He said he ordered his men to check into this and, when they did, it turned out to be true.
“The police arrested them because they broke the law,” he said.
He denied K. Jutarat’s claims that the officers asked for 5,000 baht from each tourist in exchange for letting them go.
“I think that’s impossible. I can guarantee that the Tourist Police officers did not ask for money because we are not in trouble [financially] and I constantly remind them to not do that.
“If the visa runners have any witnesses or other evidence as to which officer asked for money, they should contact me direct,” he said.
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