On a serene Sunday, 266 Thai citizens, who had been tucked away in Laukkaing, a quaint border town in Myanmar’s Shan State, were whisked away to Kunming, China by the Myanmar authorities. Their much-needed voyage was a breath of fresh air that took them away from Laukkaing’s confines into an exhilarating embrace of their motherland, Thailand.
The evacuees’ long journey home comprised two commercial flights, Thai Air Asia Flight FD9702 and Thai Lion Air Flight SL7007, both embarking from Kunming and touching down at Thailand’s Don Mueang airport. The first flight landed at the crack of dawn at around 3am, with the second tailing not too far behind, making its descent approximately at 4am.
The two flights arrived carrying a mix of nationalities – 273 in total. The passengers included the 266 Thais, who were the stars of this eventful saga, complemented by six Filipinos and a Singaporean. Upon their arrival, they were greeted not just by the airport’s glimmering lights, but also by immigration officials, consulate affairs officials, and other representatives of the Thai government.
Once grounded in their native land, the 266 Thais were then escorted by a grand convoy of police patrol vehicles and moved to the learning centre of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Training and Development Institute nestled in the Nong Chok district. This centre, far from a typical academic institution, was set to transform into an arena where the heart-wrenching stories of the returnees would be unfolded.
Officials from various ministries, including the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Public Health, alongside the police from the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division and Metropolitan Police Bureau, gathered to screen these individuals. This meticulous process was part of the National Referral Mechanism, an initiative to extricate victims of human trafficking from the clutches of their perpetrators and to segregate criminal suspects.
Simultaneously, the six foreign nationals among the passengers found refuge with their respective embassies, confirming international unity in a human crisis. As for the relatives of the returned Thais, they could finally breathe, knowing their loved ones were safe, through the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division hotline, 1191, or the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security hotline, 1300.
The government spokesperson for foreign affairs, Kanchana Patarachoke, addressed the press, affirming the duty of the government to aid all Thai nationals in distress abroad. This included individuals who fell prey to exploitation and scamming or who had illegitimately left the country. According to Ms. Kanchana, the rigorous screening underway would decipher who among the 266 returnees had been victims of human trafficking or involved in criminal activities. She urged everyone to have patience as this vital process was carried out.