More Lao Fishermen Arrested in Thailand After Entering Illegally on Way Home

2020-12-18
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More Lao Fishermen Arrested in Thailand After Entering Illegally on Way Home A public health worker checks the temperature of a Lao fisherman, one of 20 who entered Thailand illegally on Dec. 17, 2020.
BenarNews

More Lao fishermen have been arrested in southern Thailand for illegally entering the country as they tried to return home from Malaysia, where they had been working in the fishing industry for years, the fishermen and local officials said.

Like an earlier group arrested on Dec. 8, these Laotian fishermen said they had been stuck in Pahang state in eastern peninsular Malaysia after fishing work dried up in November.

Charter flights promised by their embassy in Kuala Lumpur were repeatedly postponed, and the Thai-Malaysia border was sealed due to COVID-19.

“[W]e arrested 20 Laotian workers and charged all of them with illegal entry. We will deport them to Laos,” Police Col. Chamrus Rungreung, a police chief in Su-ngai Kolok, Narathiwat, told reporters on Thursday.

According to another police official, as many as 53 Lao workers were in police custody.

“We have 53 detained Laotian workers at many police stations in Su-ngai Kolok and another district to avoid crowding. They are quarantined and normally they won’t be fined for illegal entry but will be deported to their country of origin,” said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak directly to the media. 

 Sivay Chareunsouk, 34, one of the fishermen arrested on Thursday, said that he and his friends had paid a middleman around 8,000 baht (U.S. $226) to take them as far as southern Thailand.

“We worked as fishing workers in Pahang for more than 17 years on a 10-tonne-gross fishing boat,” he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, at a press conference staged by immigration police to announce the arrests. “There, the employer laid us off, we were in big hardship and our savings diminished."

“[W]e decided to pay him and travel illegally, sneaking into Thailand because we missed our home,” Sivay said on Thursday. 

The long journey home 

Earlier this month, about 20 Laotians who left Pahang to return home were arrested in Thailand’s southern Songkhla province, near the border with Malaysia.

By Thursday, they were back in Laos, one of them told the Lao Service of Radio Free Asia, a sister agency of BenarNews.

This group left Pahang on Dec. 7 and arrived in Songkhla a day later, where they were arrested at a bus station and detained until Dec. 15.

“We paid 8,000 baht each to Thai authorities who took us to Nong Khai a day later,” one fisherman from this group told RFA, referring to a northeastern province in Thailand that borders Laos.

“Then on the 17th, we were allowed to cross to Laos. Now, we are all staying at a quarantine center in the capital Vientiane.”

An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Laos told RFA on Friday that the ministry had not heard about the arrests of Lao fishermen in Thailand.

“We haven’t received any report on these cases yet. Normally, the Thai authorities would report the arrests to the Laos Embassy in Bangkok, and then the embassy would officially report to us,” the official said.

‘Scary and risky for us’

Meanwhile, more than 300 Lao fishermen were still stuck in Pahang, they told RFA.

An official at the Lao embassy in Malaysia acknowledged to BenarNews this week that no new date had been set to fly the men home, and urged them to be patient.

“We are waiting for approval from our government, and there has been a delay because the numbers of COVID-19 cases are still high in Laos, and our quarantine centers are full,” said Sanexay Sadettan, chargé d'affaires at the embassy.

One of the fishermen who made it back to Laos – via Thailand – without being arrested, told RFA why he and a few others risked the trip.

“There had been too many postponements, we couldn’t wait anymore. We decided to escape to Thailand and then to Laos. Of course, our trip was difficult, dangerous, scary, and risky, as we might have been shot by Thai and Malaysian soldiers,” he said.

For Sivay, who was arrested in Thailand on Thursday, the experience has not fazed him.

“In the future, after COVID-19, we may come back to the same place [Pahang] because in our country there are no jobs and wages are too low,” he said.

“We’ll take our risk going back there again because in Malaysia at least we can make between 15,000 baht ($500) and 20,000 baht ($666) per month.”

Another official at the Lao embassy in Kuala Lumpur told RFA he had heard that some of his country’s fishermen were making illegal journeys back home via Thailand.

 “Sincerely, I don’t want the guys to take the risk,” he said.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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