Southern border becomes key in Covid fight
More patrols, electric fences in crackdown
The southern region was being widely used to smuggle migrant labourers into Thailand, says the 4th Army Region commander.
He was speaking after figures showed that more than 600 illegal migrants from neighbouring countries were recently apprehended while attempting to enter by way of the southern region's natural border.
Over the course of a crackdown which began in October, officials arrested 624 migrants of various nationalities -- 408 from Myanmar, 64 Cambodians, 76 Lao people, 21 Malaysians, 45 Vietnamese, one Bangladeshi, two Chinese and 26 others in border areas, and at checkpoints and shelters after tip-offs, 4th Army Region commander, Lt Gen Kriangkrai Srirak, told a press conference yesterday.
He said an escalation of Covid-19 infections in Malaysia had played a factor in the border closure and the issuing of the Emergency Decree last March. Thailand's neighbours, too, took similar steps to protect themselves from the pandemic and, in all cases, these led to concurrent massive economic downturns and widespread unemployment. The Thai government, accordingly, also ordered stricter measures to prevent illegal entires.
Lt Gen Kriangkrai added that 15 migrant traffickers were caught in the process of smuggling labourers into into the country, with the tracing of their networks resulting in more than 13 arrests of their associates in Narathiwat, Pattani, Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat.
He explained that the smugglers can be separated into two groups -- the first being a network of coordinators in Thailand and Malaysia to smuggle Cambodians, Vietnamese and Lao people in from Malaysia by boat across the Kolok River, a natural border, and then onwards by bus or car to locations within the country, such as Sa Kaeo or the northeastern provinces, to begin work. At various stages of the trip, shelters are arranged to house people during their journey.
The second was a group in Hat Yai and Sadao district of Songkhla which helped traffic some migrants elsewhere, often on to Ranong and Myanmar, he said. The commander said stricter measures have now been enforced along the border, and a special taskforce is monitoring Tak Bai, Sungai Kolok and Wang district.
Royal Thai Navy diving teams and river police will work with border guards and other officials in the region and, with the aid of kilometres of new electric fencing, hope to reduce the scale of the problem.
Border communities and villages will also be asked to help with surveillance.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last week set up two new committees, one to curb illegal gambling and the other to deal with the smuggling of migrants, both seen as key factors in the recent surge of virus infections.
Pakdee Pothisiri, president of the committee tackling people trafficking, said that the panel had outlined the work that needs to be done at its first meeting, attended by officials from Defence, Labour and Interior ministries, the Department of Special Investigation, Internal Security Operations Command, National Security Council and Royal Thai Police.
At this week's session, tasks will be assigned to each division, he said.