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Missing MH370 ‘behind visa run crackdown’. Fingerprints next?

Missing MH370 ‘behind visa run crackdown’. Fingerprints next?

PHUKET: A senior Immigration officer has given a clue as to the reasons for the current crackdown on tourists doing “out-in visa hops” from Ranong to Myanmar and back, and across all other land borders with Thailand’s neighbours: MH370.

By Tanyaluk Sakoot

Monday 12 May 2014, 07:07PM

Foreigners return from Myanmar after a visa run through the Mae Sai crossing. That's all stopped now. Photo Robert Biuk-Aghai

Foreigners return from Myanmar after a visa run through the Mae Sai crossing. That's all stopped now. Photo Robert Biuk-Aghai

Pol Lt Col Tauthong Thitchai of Surin Immigration, in whose territory is the busy Chong Jom crossing into Cambodia, told The Phuket News today, “Bangkok Immigration published an order to be more strict. All immigration officers have to do the same.

“The main reason is the lost Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.” Two people on that flight were carrying passports reported lost or stolen in Phuket.

“So Thailand is being watched by other countries because the passports went missing in Thailand. And Immigration [in Bangkok] felt they had to do something about this. Yes, we have to do it.”

Another officer contacted by The Phuket News warned that border crossings may now involve the taking of fingerprints.

The Deputy Superintendent of Immigration Police in Mukhdahan Province, which is linked to Laos by the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, said, “We will be strict in our checking of [tourists] and we will add a fingerprinting process for checking people.”

He explained that this was because the current blacklist of people barred from Thailand comprises only names “and we can’t check if someone changes their name.

“But with fingerprints we can check and identify people. All the information will be linked through a central Immigration database.”

Technically, the full weight of the rules is due to be applied from August 12, but reports from Mae Sai in the north of Thailand, where there is a crossing point into Myanmar, indicate the new rules are being rigidly applied there already. A would-be visa runner reported on the Thai Visa website that Immigration officers were turning everyone back on Saturday (May 10), and were apparently feeling the pressure themselves. “So every westerner that had approached the Thai exit border to Myanmar they have refused to let leave no matter how many stamps you have and what country,” he wrote.

“All they said is that you now have to fly out only. No more exit by land via a new regulation passed.

“When we asked for more information they got aggressive and angry, even though we are being nice and just confused. I have evidence of money and address if need be but no matter who you are they aren’t allowing it.

“They keep saying ‘Talk to my boss in Bangkok’ and shoo us off and when we ask for the phone number they say ‘No, no number!’ And when we asked where the Immigration office is they refused to tell us where.”

Pol Col Sit Siriwankul, Superintendent of the Chiang Rai Immigration Office, whose responsibility includes the Mae Sai crossing said, “We are following the same action because I really want the foreigners to get the right visa according to their purpose [in coming into Thailand].”

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In Yala Province – which includes the Su’ngai Golok crossing into Malaysia, Pol Col Preemadet Sarakul seemed to be taking a different tack. “Actually, Yala Immigration is checking and doing the same action [as other crossings], such as checking the blacklist.

“But we are being strict with just four nationalities: Lao, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian.” So far at Ranong, the closest border crossing to Phuket, the big crackdown has yet to arrive, though tourists who have done multiple “out-in” trips to Myanmar are being given just seven days when they come back in.

They also get a warning that they must fly out of the country before that time expires and “get a proper visa from a Thai consulate” if they want to come back in.

The reaction from visa run companies, who shuttle mostly tourists to the border and back so that they can do visa runs, has been equally mixed.

Vijaree Makjan, owner of Phuket Visa Run, told the Phuket News, “I already knew about the Ranong action – tourists can still renew three times.

This concerns tourists directly. It will affect my company, but not much because the company is also set up to take people to Penang [in Malaysia] as well as for out-ins at Ranong.

It will have an effect on our company and others but this is the Immigration rule. I have to respect it.” Hareuthai Keninn, owner of KBV Visa Run said, “It is good for people who live here. The rule is being applied because of problems that have happened [with tourists working illegally or committing crimes].

“The staff will ask tourists for information about the timings of their visas. So far we have not been affected by this [tightened] rule.”

But Ben Munsa, proprietor of Pen Phet Visa Run said, “ Yes! It has certainly affected me. I hope that Immigration will discuss their concerns with the Tourist Authority of Thailand and the Office of the National Security Council before they decide to apply this rule. In the long term it will affect tourism.

After this rule was published on the Immigration website most customer asked us, ‘Doesn’t Thailand have visa runs anymore?’ I had to spend days explaining the situation to them.

I feel really sorry for the Filipinos. They have a harder time than any other nationality because they can get only a 15-day tourist visa, and their employers don’t help to get them work permits.

But in the end, I have to follow the law and adapt my business the best I can.”

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