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The matter was brought to the attention of The Phuket News by the friends of a passenger who was leaving last night. They did not want to be named.
The passenger got to the Immigration desk to be told, “Fifty baht.” She did not have any Thai money with her and so had to phone the friends who had dropped her at the airport to come back again and bring her B50.
She was not the only one. Hundreds of people leaving Thailand, who had already converted their Thai money into other currencies, were caught out by the imposition of the toll.
The scene was described as “chaos” as people who had reached the front of the queue realised that they would have to go out of the immigration hall and back into the main departure hall, wait in a queue to change money back into baht and then join the back of the Immigration queue again.
Others shouted out for anyone who might happen to have a stack of Thai B50 notes for sale.
The Phuket News was initially unable to reach the superintendent of airport immigration, but spoke with his predecessor, Pol Col Assawin Naksawat, now based in Bangkok.
He said he thought there must have been some kind of misunderstanding.
“There are two sides to consider,” Col Assawin said. “First, what is the truth of the matter? Second, I do not know what kind of fees they have at Phuket International Airport at the moment.”
He recalled a row about a year ago after a similar “fee” was applied to inbound Chinese tourists. Many Chinese complained that they had been charged up to 10 yuan, without receiving receipts from the Immigration officers.
“I had this kind of situation when I worked there. Chinese passengers were not happy with the way immigration officials worked, and there were communication difficulties between the passengers and the official. Then, the passenger made up stories like that [that officials were demanding money].”
The Phuket News next asked Pol Maj Gen Suwitpon Imjairat of Immigration at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok whether any new official fees had been introduced for Immigration service at departures.
He said not. “It is our duty to work for people. We just serve passengers in the airport. Immigration officials do not charge passengers any fees.”
Finally The Phuket News managed to reach the current Phuket Airport Immigration Superintendent, Pol Col Prapansak Prasansuk.
He said, “I moved here five or six months ago and I learned about officers taking money, which had been happening for a long time. This happened from the Chinese tourists’ habit of giving officials five to 10 yuan, which they put in their passports before handing them to immigration officers.
“When I came to work in Phuket I was strict with my officials and I am sure that this behaviour has decreased since July.
“It is impossible that this happened because I have CCTV cameras and policemen with soldiers watching [at Immigration].”