More asylum seekers return

From Neville de Silva in Bangkok

Still more Sri Lankan Tamils who came to Thailand hoping to seek asylum in a third country by legal or illegal means have decided to return home.

Since December 23 another 20 or so Sri Lankan Tamils have abandoned their quest for refuge and returned to Sri Lanka after they were arrested by Thai police for violating the country's immigration laws by overstaying their visas or for illegal entry.

Earlier almost 50 Sri Lankan Tamils returned bringing the total of returnees to around 70 since the Thai police started their crackdown on Sri Lankans staying in their country in violation of immigration laws. In three separate raids conducted by the Thai police and immigration police since last October, some 250 Sri Lankans were rounded up and some taken to the courts for violating immigration laws.

Most of them have been fined and are still languishing in the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok. Some do not have passports and others are unable to pay their fines and buy the air ticket to return to Colombo. Some are awaiting clearance from the Immigration Department in Colombo for issuance of emergency papers.

Still others are seeking to enter a third country via the UNHCR with which some of them have registered as refugees. Meanwhile, Sri Lankans are turning up almost every week at the Sri Lankan Embassy to report stolen or lost passports. They have had their pockets picked or their bags holding passports and money neatly cut probably with sharp knives or other instruments and their contents stolen.

Much of the losses are reported from around a Bangkok area called Prathunam which is a huge market place of hundreds of stalls with relatively cheap clothes, other goods and trinkets. Dozens of Sri Lankans, possibly like other nationalities staying and shopping in this congested area, have had handbags and other baggage picked or cut open and contents missing.

Sri Lankans who are visiting Thailand in large numbers on easily-obtained tourist visas got through genuine or bogus travel agencies or dubious 'agents' are warned to be careful of their possessions especially passports and wallets.

Goods are stolen even at the vast Suvarnabhumi airport and visitors are warned not to take their eyes off their baggage and be especially careful of money and passports.

Though occasionally passports are returned to the police in some cases, the passports are bought or obtained somehow by those who doctor documents and travel papers and sell to others in desperate need of a passport.

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