You’re in trouble
In this week’s column, we explore how your embassy can help (or not) when you meet a big problem. Of course, embassies are separate institutions, but they are increasingly coming together when asked for assistance.
You are arrested
The police are required by law to inform the appropriate embassy if one of its nationals is arrested, but they may not do this as quickly as you might wish. Services offered by embassies are restricted to visiting you when they can, suggesting lawyers from a list and maybe offering a translation service. Embassies won’t pay your bail or – unless you are very high profile – intervene on your behalf.
You are in jail
Police cells are for short-time incarceration and prisons are for serving sentences. Most embassies will visit you once a month or so, maybe less, and will contact the prison authorities if you need medication of some kind. They will also contact friends and relatives, if you wish, or suggest you make contact with a prisoners’ welfare organization in your home country. They can probably pay small sums of money into your prison account, if somebody has provided the cash, to buy extra food or commodities.
You are in court
Embassies do not ordinarily send a representative to any court appearance you are required to make. If you want legal representation, you or your supporters must make those arrangements and pay the fees. Embassies never pay bills of any description. Court cases in Thailand can last for months or years because of the delays built into the system. If you are accused of an offence potentially carrying the death penalty, the Thai court will appoint a public defender if you wish.
You are to be deported
Once you are scheduled for deportation, you must return by air to the country of the passport you used to enter Thailand. If you have contacts on the outside, they can arrange to pay for your single airticket and other expenses associated with the procedure. If you have no sources of help, your embassy will eventually arrange the airticket but may cancel your passport so that you must repay the government before being allowed to travel again. In serious cases, police officers of your home country may accompany you on the flight.
You are blacklisted
The courts sometimes recommend blacklisting of individuals, but the actual process is at the discretion on the Immigration Police. In some cases, for example serious visa overstaying, the length of time of blacklisting is clearly laid down. In other cases it won’t be clear and blacklisting can last from one year to 99. A prisoner has no “right” to know his blacklisting decision which is sometimes taken by the authorities after deportation.
You are hospitalized
Embassies will not pay your hospital bills and you are very much on your own. You need cash reserves, medical insurance or friends and relatives with a deep pocket. Some embassies do visit seriously-ill nationals and can be a useful link with friends and relatives back home. It’s wise to remember that hospital charges in private sector hospitals in Thailand are similar to those in most European countries.
You are dead
The role of embassies is limited to issuing a “letter of release” allowing the mortuary to hand over the body to the next of kin or preferred contact for hygienic disposal or transfer back to the home country. It goes without saying that embassies don’t contribute financially to these procedures. If the embassy can’t find anyone to pay for a cremation here, the Thai state will likely provide a pauper’s cremation or hand the body over to a volunteer association with access to a communal burial mound.