The Thai government vowed to locate and deport as many as 100,000 foreigners who overstayed their visas, a deputy prime minister said Monday, indicating that Islamic State (IS) militants and criminals from other countries could be among them.
Thai authorities are cracking down on all foreigners who have not left the country at the proper time because police officers and other security personnel are having difficulty identifying those who may be linked to IS or its ideology, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters.
“We fear that there are IS infiltrators among them, so we started arresting those who overstay,” said Prawit, who also serves as defense minister. “We arrested 100 of them in the South. We did arrest them where we found pockets of those who overstayed.”
Thai police said officers have arrested criminals from across the globe, including a Nigerian with a forged visa and other documents, a Taiwanese gang that set up an illegal call center to solicit money from overseas and prostitutes from African and Arab nations.
Immigration police in Phuket reported rounding up 95 foreigners staying illegally in the province over three days last week, including 62 Indians, 11 Pakistanis and six Egyptians, according to the Bangkok Post. Of those, 70 had overstayed their visas and the others were determined to be illegal immigrants.
Prawit’s announcement came less than a week after the Brussels-based International Crisis Group published a study saying there was no evidence of any ties between IS militants and insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South, which encompasses three provinces and four districts of an adjacent province near the Malaysian border.
Leaders in the country’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region overwhelmingly rejected the ideology espoused by IS, according to the report, “Jihadism in Southern Thailand: A Phantom Menace.”
About 100,000 foreigners who have overstayed their visas are in Thailand at the moment, Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich said over the weekend.
Thai authorities had stepped up measures to identify illegal foreigners by checking finger prints against police records to determine if they had committed crimes while in Thailand, he said.
“At this point, we don’t know if they committed crimes or not. We charged them only with illegal entry or overstaying their visas, but if they were found leaving latent finger prints at crime scenes, we will prosecute them before sending them back,” he said.
“In the South, we don’t have a face-detection device. But the commanders realize its importance and we will have such a project in place because face detection is almost 100 percent reliable,” Kongcheep said.
In addition, a more stringent visa screening process to counter crimes will be imposed, an immigrant police officer said.
“We can deal with consular offices overseas, giving them to information on most crime-sensitive regions. There could be 50 to 60 out of 100 applicants receiving visas” who have criminal issues, police Maj. Gen. Itthipol Itthisarnronachai told BenarNews.
Thailand expects more than 32 million tourist arrivals at the end of 2018.
Popular destinations including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Phuket and Samui are affected by criminal activities ranging from drugs, arms trades, prostitution, human trafficking to economic crimes, officials said.