An investigation is under way into the disappearance of more than a hundred illegal immigrant women and children from a government shelter in Songkhla.
Social Development and Human Security Minister Adul Saengsingkaew said yesterday that he did not yet know if the illegal immigrants escaped or were involved with human traffickers, but a probe would soon shed light on the matter.
The disappearance might have involved in "an unusual repatriation process" where certain benefits were not observed, National Human Rights Commission member Niran Phithakwatchara said yesterday.
Niran said if that was not the case, the foreigners had been made desperate by the authorities' unclear, ineffective and, ultimately, hopeless methods.
He said this might have prompted them to flee after being in the custody of the Social Development and Human Security Ministry for more than eight months.
The NHRC will soon summon ministry officials or custody staff to provide an explanation for the disappearance of 129 of the 169 women and children at the shelter.
Pol Maj-General Phutthichart Ekkachan, tasked with tackling human trafficking, said many of the foreigners were known to be wealthy, with their leaders knowledgeable people who spoke multiple languages.
"The disappearance is supposed to be the result of their willingness to escape, with assistance being given by outsiders," he said.
A total of 295 detainees were arrested for illegal entry to the country when found in two groups in Songkhla in March.
The authorities do not know if they are Uighur fleeing persecution in China.
The 169 women and children were sent to the shelter, while 126 men are being held by provincial immigration police.
A staff member at the shelter, who asked not to be named, said women and children had fled the shelter on several occasions in small numbers and many were found by shelter staff or local residents and returned.
He said the women and children were not considered detainees and shelter staff were not authorised to prevent them from leaving despite their status as illegal entrants. There were only two immigration officers on guard duty at the shelter.
The women and children had been there for eight months and did not know what was going to happen to them. They did not want to wait any longer.
He said it was the duty of immigration and local police to track down the escapees and bring them back, while the shelter was obliged to keep taking care of the 40 people remaining.
Provincial immigration police chief Maj-General Thatchai Pitaneelabutr said earlier that all 126 men were still being detained and the responsibility for the disappearances fell on the shelter - not immigration police.