Immigration police target Muslims

Immigration police have been screening Muslim visitors from four countries since late last year due to suspicions they may be involved in passport forgery, illegal labour and security issues in southern border provinces.

The orders were issued by Pol Lt Gen Pharnu Kerdlarpphon, commissioner of the Immigration Bureau, who asked officials to carefully check visitors from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan.

The instructions have led Immigration Division 2, which supervises immigration work at five international airports in Thailand, to deny entry to nearly 1,500 visitors from the four countries over the past few months.

Pol Maj Gen Suwitphol Imjairat, commander of Immigration Division 2, said visitors from the four Middle East counties were under close watch because some had been implicated in security issues in Thailand and their entry could jeopardise national security.

The commander said some people from these countries are allowed to enter Thailand but they are closely monitored.

“We study past cases and present situations and decide on which countries in the Middle East and South Asia we should focus on. This effects our policies relating to terrorism and illegal labour,” Pol Maj Gen Suwitphol said.

He denied the strict controls resulted from any warning from the United States and insisted that they only concerned national security.

According to the commander, people from these countries may use Thailand as their base to launch operations in another country or conduct acts of terror in Thailand.

Prohibiting them from entering the country is an attempt to nip these actions in the bud.

Immigration police use internationally approved methods to screen visitors from the countries, and have the right to deny entry to persons they consider undesirable.

Immigration police apply many criteria to check visitors, Pol Maj Gen Suwitphol said.

If they arrive as tourists, immigration police welcome them under the government’s tourism promotion policy.

However, immigration officers also check visitors’ livelihoods, reservations of hotel rooms and records of return air tickets. If they do not satisfy these checks properly, immigration police have the right to deny them entry.

Most visitors whose entry is rejected are lone travellers, according to Pol Maj Gen Suwitphol.

Immigration police believe many lone travellers who claim to travel with tour guides are lying, because when their entry is blocked, no representatives from tour companies show up to vouch for the visitors, the commander said.

“Some of the strict measures used to vet these people include rigorous questioning. If questioning allays our suspicions, we let them in. If it fails to do so, we will not allow them entry,” Pol Maj Gen Suwitphol said.

The immigration commander said some of the visitors who pass the immigration screening go missing and do not leave Thailand through the proper legal channels.

Investigations find that some of them sneak out of Thailand to third-party countries and others stay illegally in the country for work and illicit business.

Late last year, immigration police rejected the entry of 58 Syrians who arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport. They were among more than 5,000 Syrian visitors to Thailand last year. Some of these visitors remained in Thailand illegally.

Another reason for the strict surveillance of visitors from these countries is their use of fake passports.

An immigration officer at Suvarnabhumi airport said people are escaping from unrest in their home countries and heading for third-party countries where they will seek asylum.

“Many of these people hold fake passports. If we catch them with false documents we must arrest and prosecute them. The fake passports are often purchased in their home countries,” the source said.

Some of the visitors have been found in possession of fake Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish passports.

The source also said investigators have told immigration officers at Suvarnabhumi airport that some visitors from the four countries have been involved in unrest in Thailand’s southernmost provinces.

Contact Crime Track:crimetrack@bangkokpost.co.th

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