Today we bring you the first short instalment in a new occasional series on crime in Thailand.
The Flying Sporran has been with the Narcotics Suppression Division and Immigration Police on raids in Bangkok.
In this taster we wake up a hidden community in the capital and watch as they take what seem like the first steps of a long journey home.
Its 5.30 am in a quiet lane off the Lard Prao Road and an Immigration Detention Centre prisoner truck pulls up outside a nondescript apartment block to receive its latest guests.
A sign outside the front door warns in Thai that drugs are forbidden here and the penalty is death for dealing in them.
As police make their way to the targeted rooms the commotion seems to stir the bowel movements of some of the residents – as there is a flushing of toilets.
A couple of doors are opened by Thai women from inside others by NSB officers with their own keys – In this block and two others some 16 Nigerian and Cameroon subjects are caught. Eleven have stayed longer than their tourist visas permit. Five do not have any passports at all. They say they have sent them away and give various reasons.
Police know from their appearance that all the men are African – but they cannot be sure that even those with passports are even from the country they say they are.
What are these people doing living in 2000 baht a month apartments which have no signs at all of any attempts to make them a home? Only one bed in several rooms actually even had a sheet on it.
None of the prisoners has more possessions than he can carry in a small rucksack.
One, a Nigerian makes a break for it, but he is caught by a Thai officer, considerably smaller within five minutes.
Can life here really be better than that back home? And if some 16 (actually 20 were targeted but the rest had moved in the last 24 hours) are in just three small blocks within a 400 square metre area – how many more communities like this are there in the great metropolis?
Initially all have memory relapses. They cannot remember who they gave their passport to, or they only had a first name or nickname. One man who is seized while visiting – the runner – cannot remember the name of his own apartment block.
It’s as if they are all waiting for something.
“They are not great talkers,” says a young Thai Narcotics officer whose fluent unaccented English comes from his education in London.
“They do not seem to know who they gave their passports to.”
The new prisoners are given back their belongings, even their mobile phones and a crate of water, and trucked into the care of the Immigration Department. They will be interviewed in the coming days.
The operation is just beginning.
Footnote: Contrary to many people’s expectations since the military coup – and the enforced reshuffle and removement of key police officers there are noticeable signs of a new enthusiasm in sections of the Royal Thai Police. The NSB was unaffected by the recent changes nevetheless their office is very upbeat, despite the inherent difficulties of dealing with in particular foreign drugs traffickers. Something which we may tackle in future installments.