19 years later, missing man returns to village full of scars

Tells of 'nightmare' at sea, Malaysian jail

Somsak Somying with his mother Iat, who 'cried tears of joy' when her son returned from the dead. (Photo by Nopparat Kingkaeo)

SURIN: Much to his family's surprise, a man returned home to a village in Sangkha district after having disappeared for 19 years -- enough time to convince the family he was long dead.

Disfigured ears and scars all over his body were evidence of what Somsak Somying, 50, went through while working on a fishing trawler for two years before he was arrested in the Malaysian seas and imprisoned there for several months.

His mother, 72-year-old Iat Somying, cried tears of joy as she recounted the unexpected return of her son last Thursday after she and everyone else in the village had lost hope of ever seeing him again.

"I always missed him and thought he was dead. I regularly performed a merit-making rite for him and prayed he was resting in peace," said Ms Iat. "I don't wish for anything else now he's home with me again."

A northeastern wrist-binding rite known as bai si su khwan was performed on Tuesdayas a way for his family and other villagers to welcome him home.

In 1999, Mr Somsak, who was 31 at the time, left home with a friend from his village to work at a construction site in Bangkok. The friend later quit the job and left. Mr Somsak did not have any money and couldn't read or write, so he struggled to find his way home.

He moved from one construction site to another in search of work until 2015, when he was transferred to a construction site in Phuket. There he met a new friend who convinced him to pursue a "well-paid" fishing job.

A job placement company in Samut Prakan promised to give him 9,000 baht a month if he agreed to give up his ID card, he said.

"Working on a fishing trawler turned out to be an endless nightmare," said Mr Somsak.

He rarely had a chance to leave the boat, drug use was rife, and he suffered violent attacks from people armed with spades, he said.

He finally got out when he was arrested by Malaysian authorities and jailed for several months before an organisation helped him return to Thailand.

The same job broker in Samut Prakan then sent him to work at a factory for another two months until he was detained in a police raid, he said.

In lieu of any identifying documents the police struggled to reunite him with his family.

They were finally able to locate his sister who lives in another district of Surin who helped to bring him home.

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