Thai police arrest more than 100 in search for illegal immigrants from Myanmar

Special to RFA
Mae Sot, Thailand
Thai police arrest more than 100 in search for illegal immigrants from Myanmar A police officer inspects a motorbike outside the traffic police station in Mae Sot, Thailand, May 25, 2023.

Residents in the Thai border town of Mae Sot are on high alert after police arrested more than 100 people last week in a search for illegal immigrants.

The raids follow the discovery of a house producing weapons for resistance forces fighting the junta in Myanmar on May 14. Thai authorities were informed that there were at least six people involved in the production of weapons.

But the number of arrested has gone far beyond the handful being pursued, said local groups helping Myanmar nationals in the border town. In total, around 100 people were arrested this week in Mae Sot and the surrounding areas, said Moe Kyaw, chairman of the Joint Action Committee for Burmese Affairs.

“The rest were arrested on the way to Mae Tao clinic at surprise checkpoints. Some were inspected on the way to the market and in the market. When they could not provide the pass, they were arrested,” he said. “I have heard that at least 50 people were arrested on the 23rd alone.”

Rose, a community leader assisting migrant workers who asked not be further identified, said the task force was focusing on small unregistered factories in the surrounding areas and Mae Tao, a community south of Mae Sot. 

“Regarding the arrests, they [authorities] have conducted checks of the houses and neighborhoods. They arrested people who had no documents,” she said, adding that some had been able to put up bail, while others will be deported.

“During these days, [Thai authorities] raided small garment factories which had not registered and arrested [illegal workers]. Those factories are cottage industries and they do not have registration.”

Witnessing raids

On May 22, Tak Immigration reported arrests of a group of Myanmar nationals near a small factory in Mae Tao for illegally entering Thailand and working without a permit.

“I tried to run away to the other side of the sugarcane field. They also hit me, but I got away” said one woman who witnessed the raid.

A police officer stands duty near the Burmese market during rush hour in Mae Sot, Thailand, May 25, 2023. [RFA]

Of the 20 people present at the factory, 15 were arrested after police and immigration also raided the nearby workers’ dormitories.

While the arrests in factories were initially carried out in suspected connection to the house producing weapons, this was not the case, said Moe Kyaw.

“According to reports, at first, they [the authorities] had watched [the factories] on suspicion of weapons being there and later people were arrested,” he said. “[The authorities] raided on suspicion of [weapons being there] but they found undocumented workers instead.”

Democracy activists fleeing from Myanmar and those awaiting resettlement from the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights told Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews, that they were concerned about their security.

Kyaw Kyi, a member of an organization helping migrants in the area, says he’s been unable to help those arrested by the police. He told RFA he tried calling the UN agency to get more information on those arrested, but was unsuccessful.

“Even if I don’t go out, I’m very scared just staying in the house,” Kyaw Kyi told RFA. “If I get arrested, I will go. Currently, we are unprotected. We have lost a lot of human rights.”


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