Lao Fishermen Arrested in Thailand After Crossing lllegally From Malaysia

Special to BenarNews
2020-12-23
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Lao Fishermen Arrested in Thailand After Crossing lllegally From Malaysia A group of Lao fishermen who lost jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic are shown stranded in Pahang state in Malaysia in an undated photo.
[Photo provided by fishermen]

Police in southern Thailand’s Narathiwat province on Tuesday arrested 32 Lao fishermen who had crossed illegally from Malaysia in the latest attempt by Lao workers stranded by COVID-19 travel restrictions to get home.

The fishermen walked out of the woods in the province’s Tak Bai district and asked for help from local villagers, but were pushed away by local authorities, an officer in the district police station told the Lao Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Tuesday after their arrest. RFA is a sister agency of BenarNews.

“A villager reported the intruders to [the military], and soldiers drove over here, picked them up, and handed them over to us at the police station,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

During an initial questioning, the detained fishermen were unable to produce passports, visas, or other documents, the officer said, adding that under an agreement signed between Thailand and Laos, the detainees will be deported to Laos after being tested for COVID-19.

On Monday, a group of 20 Lao fishermen who had crossed earlier from Malaysia were found guilty of illegal entry at the Narathiwat Provincial Court and fined 4,000 baht (U.S. $132) each, an officer at the Muno district police station said.

“We are sending a letter to the immigration officers to come pick them up,” he said. “They have already paid their fine, but they’ll also have to be tested for COVID-19 before we can send them back to their home country.”

Fourteen other Lao fishermen from Malaysia were already being held at the Tak Bai district police station before Tuesday’s group arrived, the Tak Bai police officer said, adding that by Monday a total of 53 illegal Lao workers were being detained in various places in Narathiwat province.

“The deportation process usually takes about two weeks, depending on the country of destination and on how soon the detainees can be tested for COVID-19 here in Thailand,” an officer in the provincial police department said.

“We want to deport them as soon as possible, but we also want everyone to be safe,” he said.

The Lao fishermen now held in Thailand had been waiting in Malaysia to fly home to Laos following loss of work amid fears over the spread of COVID-19, “but the flights were postponed many times, and finally there were no flights at all, and they had no money or savings left,” the provincial police officer said.

“So they decided to come to Thailand, and they didn’t care if they were arrested,” he said.

In early December, another group of 11 Lao fishermen left Pahang state in Malaysia, crossed illegally into Thailand without being arrested, and finally crossed the Mekong River to the Lao capital Vientiane, sources said.

Three are still being held under quarantine in the capital, while the rest have been sent back to their home provinces.

This article was reported and produced by RFA's Lao Service.

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