Uthai’s mobile phone rang. She looked at it anxiously, crying out, “It’s him! It’s him!” It was her brother Sakchai Makao. This was the first time he had called since his arrest.
“Please send me some cash. I have nothing on me,” he asked.
Sakchai was arrested and dragged out of his flat by eight police officers at 7am, on Tuesday of last week, in Lerwick, Shetland. The 23 year old, who has been living in Shetland, in the far north of Scotland, for the last 13 years, was frightened and confused. He didn’t know what he had done wrong.
He did not know he had been arrested for an offence he had committed years ago, for which he had already been jailed.
Sakchai has become the latest of the 1,000 foreigners with a criminal record who are being targeted for deportation.
Sakchai is now being detained in a high security jail in Durham. His family visited him last Saturday. Uthai said, “He said it was very rough in prison. I told him about all the support. I think he is a wee bit more positive, but also scared.”
The Shetland for Sakchai campaign was due to hold a rally this Tuesday as Socialist Worker went to press at the Lerwick Clickimin Leisure Complex.
Sakchai is employed at the complex. He has represented Shetland and Scotland at international athletics events and is a popular member of the community.
Sakchai’s arrest shocked and angered the Shetlanders, who are now campaigning vigorously on Sakchai’s behalf. An online petition is gathering signatures fast, as are paper petitions being handed out throughout the islands.
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael is putting pressure on the home office to explain why Sakchai is being treated like a criminal.
Sakchai’s 26 year old sister Uthai Macow, who works as a shop assistant in London, said, “We never expected the raid. We had no idea Sakchai was being targeted by the home office.”
The family moved to Scotland in 1994 to join their mother. They were granted indefinite leave to remain. Their father worked in Glasgow as an engineer before the family decided to move to Shetland.
They immediately fell in love with Shetland. Although they didn’t speak more than a few words of English at the time, the local community welcomed them with open arms.
Uthai said, “People look after each other in the Shetlands. We decided, ‘This is where we want to settle.” They joined the other 20 Thai families on the islands.
At that time, Sakchai was ten. He quickly learnt English and adapted himself to life in Shetland. Now he and his sister speak like local Shetlanders.
“Sakchai has always seen Shetland as his home,” said Uthai. When he finished school, he began training at Lerwick Clickimin Leisure Complex as a lifeguard. “I can see him becoming a very focused person. He really enjoyed what he was doing,” said Uthai.
Unfortunately, one day in February 2002, when the 18 year old Sakchai was drinking with friends, he got very drunk.
He set fire to a salmon factory caravan. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2004.Shetland’s procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie described what Sakchai did as “totally out of character”.
Sakchai’s friends and colleagues knew that it was a mistake, and they wrote to him in jail and encouraged him to stay strong.
His employer Shetland Recreational Trust also welcomed him back to his job at the leisure centre at the end of his sentence.
Uthai said, “Since Sakchai’s return, he has never stepped out of line. He was so touched by everyone’s support and he would never make that mistake again.”
Sakchai has worked extremely hard in the past year. He was promoted to the position of a full time senior lifeguard three months before his arrest.
Since the arrest, the family has been prevented from talking to Sakchai. Uthai said “Our mother feels very angry with the way the authorities are treating us.
“We feel that Sakchai is being unfairly criminalised because he comes from another country.
“Many people in this country have criminal records but they are not being singled out. Are we more criminal than others?
“We believe that Sakchai’s human rights are being violated.We have no idea whether Sakchai is coming back to us this time.”
The Immigration National Directorate falsely claims that Sakchai “had spent his childhood and formative years in Thailand and it’s not unreasonable to expect him to readjust to life there”.
Uthai says, “He has few memories of Thailand and can’t even speak Thai now. If he is to be deported, how is he going to survive there?”
Davie Gardner, a friend of the Makao family, said, “It is an absolute crime to send him back to a country he has never really lived in.” He said the treatment Sakchai had received was “absolutely inhumane”.
The local church in Shetland has described the early morning raid on his home as a “terrorist attack”.
Sakchai’s employer Shetland Recreational Trust has agreed to foot the legal bill to see Sakchai released as soon as possible. A lawyer has been appointed to represent Sakchai.
A home office spokeperson said, “Foreign nationals must obey the laws of this country in the same way as everybody else and those who have committed criminal offences here are therefore subject to the same legal processes as anyone else in the UK.
“Anyone breaking the law can expect prosecution and, where appropriate, a custodial sentence and deportation.”
But as to why Sakchai is to be deported for a crime he was jailed for years ago, the home office said “we do not comment on individual cases”.
Sakchai’s family and the Shetlanders are not going to give up. They say, “We will fight to bring him back.”
To sign the petition supporting Sakchai go to www.shetlink.com/modules.php?name=ePetitions&op=more_info&ePetitionId=2