Ranong 12 finally set free

RANONG: “The Ranong 12”, a group of 12 foreign tourists arrested on the morning of February 8 for overstaying their visas, were freed on Sunday.

The most that any of the 12 had overstayed was six days. Others were just 24 hours over the limit.

During their five-day ordeal they spent the first two nights on dirty police cell floors in Kapoe District and the next two locked up in minibuses on overnight journeys to and from Bangkok, where they were sent to be processed for deportation.

The detainees were eventually spared deportation from Bangkok following successful negotiations between their embassies and top Immigration officials in the capital.

They were then returned, still under detention, to Ranong, from where they finally left the country under expulsion orders. They then re-entered the country as free men and women on new tourist visas.

The arrests have caused confusion and fear among foreign tourists and resident expats, who for years have been able to depart the country after overstaying – within reason – their permit-to-stay by simply paying a 200-baht-a-day fine.

One of the 12 arrested, Australian Chris Taylor, 31, told the Gazette today, “We were under arrest the whole time … when we weren’t locked in a cage we were being escorted by Immigration or other police officials … many people did not sleep at all for the whole time … They weren’t giving us information, and when they did give us information they lied to us,” he said.

He said that when he finally got back to Phuket, nobody could believe he had been locked up for five days because of a one-day overstay.

“The way we were treated was shocking … Some of the food I couldn’t eat; it was just bloody dog food. The Kapoe Police did their best to accommodate us; they tried to make us comfortable. They did their best with the sleeping arrangements, but I don’t think they really knew what was going on.

“But the Tourist Police, Immigration Police in Bangkok and especially the Immigration Police in Ranong, none could speak English at all – and they were very rude, treating us like crap,” he said.

He said that the day before his tourist visa was set to expire he went to Phuket Immigration, where he was told that a one-day overstay would not cause a problem.

“‘Just do a visa run tomorrow and pay a 200-baht fine,’ they told me,” he said, adding that they should have advised him to extend his visa by 10 days then and there as he faced possible arrest as an overstay.

Despite all the discomfort, he said he would continue his vacation in Thailand by making new reservations for a flight to Chiang Mai, as his original tickets had expired and were non-refundable.

“I am just tired and need to rest for a few days first,” he said.

Australian Embassy officials in Bangkok had done an extraordinary job in negotiating with Thai Immigration officials in Bangkok, he added.

Another member of the group, Swede Olaf Fredling, also said he would not let the experience put him off vacationing in Thailand. Like his Australian co-detainee, he said the actions of a few didn’t reflect badly on all of Thailand.

“But my feet are really bad right now from all the standing around. We never got a chance to lay down … but sure, I am going to stay in Thailand,” he said.

Janpen Munsa, owner of the Penphet Visa Run Company, said the arrests were unprecedented in the company’s six-year history and had hurt her business because former customers now feared arrest if they use it.

“The company is registered as a visa run business, but they arrested [our customers] – using rude words and bad behavior,” she said, adding that hers is just one of three companies providing the service.

“Why was our vehicle pulled over and our overstayed customers singled out?” she wanted to know.

Anchalee Praphut, owner of Angelina Travel and Tour Agency, which arranged the visa tour for one of the overstays, said the whole episode had sullied the reputation of the Tourist Police.

She had to plead with the police to allow two of the group who were diabetic to have insulin shots, which they had to pay for themselves.

She called on the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to look into the matter, saying that TAT efforts to promote tourism abroad would be all for nothing if the Tourist Police treated foreign tourists so badly after they arrived.

Ranong Governor Mekin Methawikul, who was informed of the issue by K. Anchalee, told the Gazette that he had sent a formal request to the head of the Ranong Tourist Police for a report about the incident.

He said that the Tourist Police Chief told him that there had been cases of foreigners using the visa runs to smuggle ya bah (methamphetamine) into the country from Burma, so his staff needed to check foreigners on visa runs carefully.

As the Tourist Police do not have the authority to stop moving vehicles, they had called on the Highway Police for assistance. Another bus on a visa run that followed shortly thereafter was allowed to pass by because the police did not want to create traffic congestion, the Governor said.

Gov Mekin added that, as the arresting officers were low-level police, it was unrealistic to expect them

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

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