Tuesday, May 20, 2008

DEATH-TRUCK TRAGEDY : Burmese survivors sent home

by WIMOL NOOKAEW Bangkok Post
RANONG : Fifty-six illegal Burmese workers who survived the cold-storage death truck tragedy last month were sent back to Burma yesterday.

Their destination was Kawthaung islet opposite Ranong province.

The workers were among 66 Burmese survivors, 10 of whom are being held as witnesses in court proceedings in Ranong against the people who smuggled them into Thailand.

A total of 54 of 121 illegal Burmese immigrants travelling in the back of a cold-storage truck suffocated while being smuggled to Phuket from Ranong on April 9. Six Thais have been charged in the tragedy that shocked the nation.

Ranong governor Kanchanapha Keeman, provincial police chief Pol Maj-Gen Apirak Hongthong and senior officials yesterday took the 56 Burmese survivors, who had been detained at the Ranong immigration office for a month, to a pier in tambon Paknam, Muang district, where they boarded boats to Kawthaung islet.

Each was given two sets of clothes and other necessary items by the World Vision Foundation.

Upon their arrival in Burma, they were immediately taken to a home for the elderly on Kawthaung islet which had previously served as a hospital.

One Burmese survivor said he was glad to be allowed to return home. Before the tragedy, he had travelled from Moulmein in southern Burma before being smuggled into Thailand with the other job seekers. He vowed not to sneak into other countries again looking for work. He said the April 9 death-truck tragedy had been a nightmare.

A volunteer and interpreter at the World Vision Foundation said the remaining 10 Burmese survivors held as witnesses were four children and six adults. Most, particularly the youngsters, one boy and three girls, cried after being told they would have to remain in Thailand as witnesses. They said memories of the April 9 tragedy still haunted them.

A source said Kawthaung officials had come to an agreement with local Thai authorities that they would not take legal action against the 56 Burmese survivors after they were returned home.

Previously, human rights advocates had called on Thai authorities to treat the case as human trafficking, not just illegal migration and allow the survivors to take the smugglers to court.


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