Author’s note: This is a Deutsche Presse-Agentur despatch dated April 17, 1990. It is sad and horrifying, especially the follow up story of his first hand experience in Rnagoon’s Insein Jail [see Hell on Earth – Burma’s Insein Central Jail]
Illegal immigrants in Thailand released after 20 years in jail
By Kim Gooi
Bangkok, April 17 dpa – One of the worst crimes to be convicted of in Southeast Asia is not murder or violence against society but being an illegal immigrant.
A group of immigrants were released by Thai police jail last week after many of them had been incacerated for more than 20 years.
A number of their fellow long-term captives did not live, to enjoy release – they died in captivity.
Many of the detainees aged in their seventies were unable to walk and had to be carried out of prison by officials. Among those freed were 29 Chinese, 13 Vietnamese and a German.
Interior minister Banharn Silapa-Archa ordered the release on humanitarian grounds. Many of the prisoners have no living relatives and will now spend their last days in state-run old people’s homes.
Some of the prisoners went down on hands and knees to hug the feet of the mnister. They called him an angel sent from heaven to rescue them.
Human rights groups had campaigned for years to bring about the release but it was not until early this year when the new interior minister took over that their campaign was officially heeded.
However, a couple of years ago some elderly illegal immigrants were freed by the previous government.
Many immigrants or refugees from China and Vietnam, some from India and Pakistan came to Thailand and Burma, where the treatment of illegal immigrants is equally harsh, and worked illegally in the country, apparently unaware of tough immigration laws and the nightmare they would face if caught.
The majority of those let out had been apprehended many years ago for committing minor crimes such as selling lottery tickets without a permit or smoking opium. They were given light sentence or fined by the court but it was only then that their troubles began. As foreign nationals they had to be deported to their country of origin.
But in most cases the mother countries took no interest in the cases and refused to accept the would-be immigrants back.
The bizarre ordeal of one Vietnamese refugee family came to light a year and a half ago after they escaped from Rangoon’s Insein prison during the (Aug 8 Pro Demcracy) bloody uprising.
They managed to reached the French embassy in Rangoon and were smuggled to France but only after an appalling ordeal.
The family had trekked through China and entered Burma thinking it was the best way to reach asylum in the West. All were arrested and jailed for a year by a Burmese court for illegally entering the country.
The family ended up staying ten years. Two died in captivity after enduring inhuman conditions. The mental strain of being in jail robbed another of the power of speech.
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of illegal immigrants and refugees have perished in Burmese jails since 1949 under brutal and inhuman conditions.
This correspondent had a first hand experience in Burmese jails when he was jailed for six months for illegal entry in 1977-78. He managed to gain release after a year.
In Burma the sentence for murder is five years imprisonment and three years for manslaughter. A refugee or illegal immigrant faces life imprisonment unless the native country makes an effort to get the person released.
dpa Apr 1990
more in part II: [Burma’s Insein Central Jail – Hell on Earth]