Deputy Mayor Chairat Sukkaban told The Phuket News today that tourists being disturbed by immigrant beggars has became a serious problem.
Most of them are underage and many are handicapped, he said. They sell garlands or beg for money from tourists around Patong, especially on Bangla Rd, the beach road and Rat U-Thit 200 Pi Rd. None have visas or work permits, he added.
Some of the beggars are grown-ups, usually carrying a child, and some are very old. Their countries of origin vary, but most seem to be from Cambodia or Vietnam, Mr Chairat said.
Many tourists and business owners have complained to Patong Municipality that they had been pestered by immigrant beggars. Tourists reported that some beggars were quite aggressive, grabbing passers-by and hanging on in hopes of a handout.
Mr Chairat worries that the situation could ruin Patong’s image and Phuket tourism. One problem is that tourists misunderstand; they get the impression that the child beggars are Thai, and are victims of Thai-operated child labour rings.
“We have done several roadshows to foreign countries to promote Phuket,” said Mr Chairat. “But when tourists see these terrible scenes of immigrant beggars, it negates everything we do in the roadshows.”
Mr Chairat said many witnesses have seen the beggars arrive at their pitches and leave again in pick-up trucks, leading to suspicions that there may be human trafficking gangs behind them.
He said Patong Municipality are trying to track down the beggars to see if they are part of organised gangs.
In contrast to Mr Chairat’s distress, however, the superintendent of Phuket Immigration Police, Col Panuwat Ruamrak, said police have found no illegal immigrants begging during their patrols in Patong.
He conceded that there probably are such people in Patong, but so far his office had received no reports.