Chiangrai News Press Release
Fourteen people sat in the room, each with a different background, but each with the same goal-to return to Burma. I sat in silence, too nervous to break the silence of ice in the room, it smelled horrible body sweat, mold and cigarette smoke. The floor was dusty, the walls were damp and stained, and torn apart from a rusty sink, there were no facilities or furniture.
The room had no windows and no air conditioning, and was on the top floor of a cheap karaoke bar in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.
It was late at night, and we were waiting for a driver of a smuggling network that was to take us north of the border between Thailand and Burma, where they cross illegally into Tachilek. Like me, most appeared to be Shan migrant workers, but some were Burman. About half were women. I figured that none of us had work permits, passports or travel documents, otherwise you would not have chosen this dangerous (and expensive) means of transport.
Most migrant workers in Thailand earn a salary of 3,000 baht and 9,000 baht per month [U.S. $ 100 to $ 300]. According to most data from non-governmental organizations in Thailand, at least two million Burmese living illegally in the country, most work in construction, agriculture or in factories.
The cost of the trip is 3,700 euros per person. The bus fare for the five-hour trip from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai only cost about 200 baht, but would face the police checkpoints along the route. No amount of money worth the risk. The traffickers know this, of course, is why they can charge as much as they do.
In fact, I have said the charges of smuggling 6. 000 baht to go in the opposite Mae Sai in Chiang Mai, the much higher price which reflects the higher number of checkpoints on the road from Burma.
One of the organizers, he finally reached the room and told us to go down. I whispered to everyone to be completely silent. The karaoke lounge is closed, but some of the girls sat around the bar. I noticed that some of them looked at us with an element of jealousy. They were probably Shan girls, hoping that might as well go home and see their families.
We got into a big jeep that was parked outside. Apart from the security for the driver, there were only four seats and luggage space in the back. We had to put 14 people in There was a newborn baby and an elderly woman who was about 70. That would be a very uncomfortable trip.
I thought fish paste. Apart from the smell that always reminds me of home, I remembered my grandmother so much time cutting and pressing many fish in a small saucepan. It felt like in this car.
I was relieved to see a pick-up, acting as escort was to accompany us, drive a few miles ahead and call the driver if there were roadblocks ahead.
The jeep had contaminated the windows so nobody could see inside. However, the air conditioning was not working and they quickly became very hot and smelly. I could hardly breathe.
Some of the passengers began to ask the driver to roll down the window, but he refused saying it was too dangerous. Indeed, one of the women vomited in the back of the car. The driver rolled down the window enough so he could breathe fresh air. The rest of us had to stand the smell, the heat and overcrowding. I tried to rest, but it was impossible. Finally, I sat there, overwhelmed, unable to see anything except the lights dipped and the Bluetooth light clipped to the driver’s ear.
The trip lasted about 5 hours. When we arrived at Mae Sai was 4 in the morning. The traffickers took us to a house far enough from the center of the town of Mae Sai. We were given blankets and told us to get some sleep.
Around 5 am, we woke up and was told that the bikes were parked outside the conductors. As I saw some of the group discussion with their drivers, as they had brought too much baggage, including electrical items and even a small fridge and LCD TV.
We went off the road, crossed a stream and headed to a truck that was waiting for us. We pile, and the driver took us down the bumpy road that leads to Tachilek. He left us without ceremony, on the outskirts of the city, and then removed. The group quickly separated from each went its own way to your destination.
For me, I still had a long way to go. But I breathed a sigh of relief that had made it through the border and took a deep breath to take in the morning air and the smell of cigars, nuts, fish paste and everything I said I was home.
By SAI ZOM HSENG