Friday, May 18, 2007

North Korean "underground railway" to Thailand

As the numbers of North Koreans smuggled in via China then Laos and Myanmar grow from a trickle to a steady flow, Thailand's inability to cope is becoming all too clear.

After China cracked down on fugitives from Kim Jong-il's isolated communist state three years ago, forcing many back despite concerns they would be tortured or killed, Thailand emerged as an attractive route for those seeking a new life in South Korea.

Playing a good guy role in the international community, Thailand, which has 30,000 workers toiling illegally in South Korea, chooses to deal with the problem quietly.

But the numbers are swelling rapidly. In Chiang Saen, a now sleepy outpost once alive with the comings and goings of the nearby "Golden Triangle" opium trade, more than 160 have arrived so far this year.

That compares to 157 for the whole of 2006 and 94 in 2005, local police records show. In the whole of northern Thailand, 293 have arrived this year, up from just 40 in 2003, the first year North Koreans started to get caught.

One group arrested last week -- four women, a man and two babies, all sunburnt and covered in mosquito bites -- were kept at the police station for four days before they were questioned.


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