Police interview Lao 'slaves' over trafficking
published : 24 Aug 2015 at 03:48
updated: 24 Aug 2015 at 15:47
newspaper section: News
writer: Manop Thip-Osod
Thirteen illegal Lao labour immigrants who were rescued from an alleged "slavery farm" in Nakhon Pathom are being treated as witnesses in a suspected human trafficking case.
The immigrants, some as young as 15 years old, will not be charged with illegal entry into Thailand because they are considered to be victims of human trafficking, Saranya Sawatnok, chief of the Nakhon Pathom Shelter for Children and Families under the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, said Sunday.
When officers raided the pig and chicken farm late on Saturday morning they found the farmhands in "animal cages" in the province's Muang district.
The raid by a team of soldiers and police came after Chanon Saenkaeo, 25, along with a friend, escaped and sought police help.
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Mr Chanon said the cages had no toilets and workers had to"defecate in plastic bags".
They would wait for their boss to open the doors to the cage the following morning to discard the bags, he said.
Mr Chanon also claimed the workers were forced to work all day and were beaten.
The 12 male victims were sent to the witness protection centre against human trafficking in Pathum Thani's Thanyaburi district.
The woman was sent to the Kredtarakarn Protection and Occupational Development Centre in Nonthaburi.
The Lao nationals covered their faces under cloths and refused to give interviews when they were transferred to the centres in vans.
An initial police investigation found the victims - nine teenagers aged between 15 and 18 years old, and four aged over 18 - are from Champasak and Salavan provinces in southern Laos.
They contacted a job broker in Laos who then sent them to work on the farm, owned by Krung Thai Bank manager Chaidet Sonut.
Mr Chaidet was released on bail Sunday after being arrested and interrogated overnight.
Police charged him with detaining, assaulting and giving shelter to immigrant workers.
He denied all charges and will only give testimony in court.
They "looked dirty and smelled of animal feed" when the officers found them in a building with metal bars, Ms Saranya said.
The farm is surrounded by high walls and security cameras are placed in various spots.
A large dog also patrols the land.
The victims told police "some farmhands tried to get out, but they were caught and allegedly beaten with a gun", Ms Saranya said, adding the victims worked under these conditions for two months.
"Six workers suffered injuries to their bodies.
"They were checked by doctors on Saturday night," she said.
Villagers who live near the farm said they noticed strange occurrences at the farm.
The farmhands virtually never left the compound, in contrast with foreign workers elsewhere who often leave their place of work to play sports or ride motorbikes.
All of the victims will be sent back to Laos once the authorities finish interrogating them, Ms Saranya said.