Aussie woman’s horrific Thai detention
Claire Licciardo knew Thai detention would be bad, but she never imagined how "horrific" conditions would be and the "blatant disregard" for humanity she saw.
The Australian woman was in detention for 12 days this month with none of her belongings, forced to get by on the 100 Thai Baht ($4) she had on her, nearly half of which went straight to buying a blanket, leaving little for food or clean water.
Ms Licciardo was trying to return home with a new passport when immigration officials stopped her in Bangkok. She said she was in a cell with about 200 women that was meant for 30.
She had no toilet paper because she did not have enough money to buy it, there was only a trough to shower with, and she ended up having to drink the water the women washed their clothes in.
Without the kindness of some of the other detainees who lent her money for food, she said she would have had nothing.
Detainees were given a bowl of rice twice a day that was supposed to have meat but never did because the guards reportedly took it off the bones to fry it and sell back to detainees.
She said: "(You) wouldn't give the broth they gave you to your dog." She said those who ate it said it tasted like dirty dishwashing water.
A nun who had fled Myanmar via Thailand and been detained helped Ms Licciardo when she saw how distressed she was.
"She'd wake me up every morning and feed me to make sure I was eating; she would give me milk and rice," she said.
"I was lucky if I got water. A Russian lady who had been there nine months gave me money (which) I gave back when the embassy came."
HOW IT HAPPENED
Embassy representatives didn't arrive until the day before Ms Licciardo left the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok after 12 days locked up, forcing her to send frantic and desperate texts to someone back home when she briefly got her phone.
The former Gold Coaster, who's currently back in Sydney, had been travelling since 2017 when she packed up her life to tick off places from her bucket list.
She knew she'd overstayed her visa in Thailand because she was waiting on a new passport to arrive from Australia after hers was stolen.
While she'd officially overstayed for 111 days she said she had no choice and kept being assured by the consulate and the embassy that she was following the right process.
"I didn't mean to overstay. I was dealing with the consulate and the embassy the whole time," she said.
"I couldn't extend my visa because my passport was stolen and I had to wait to get all the documents like my birth certificate from Australia.
"I did everything right but every time I rang the embassy I was speaking to someone in Canberra and they didn't know what was going on."
Ms Licciardo said she left Pattaya, where she spent New Year's Eve, to go via Bangkok and was going through immigration to get her new passport stamped when she was stopped.
At worst she thought she'd get a 20,000 baht fine ($880), whether official or not. She'd had one before that she still had a receipt for.
"It's Thailand; everyone knows that can happen," she said.
"It depends on the person you get and they detained me all day but I didn't know I wasn't going (home) at any stage.
"They don't help you. They wouldn't let me speak to anyone but the embassy - I finally worked that out after nine days."
Ms Licciardo was moved from the airport immigration office to the IDC and was told she would be in a room "just like here" but soon realised the facility was nothing like that.
"I could not believe what was happening. I felt like I was stuck in a Netflix documentary; it was horrific.
"At first I was embarrassed but I got over that really quickly because there's people who have been in there for weeks, months, years or they die on the floor.
"The first night somebody in the cell next door died."
The former cosmetic tourism operator said the cell was worse than a prison.
"In prison they let you go out in the morning but every two days we'd get to go down to another cell, which was even hotter, to buy food - and that's if you have money," she said.
"The guards are charging double. A 1.5 litre bottle of water that costs you 14 baht (60 cents) at the 7-11 was 30 baht ($1.30).
"The more I was there the less I was coping."
Ms Licciardo went to court where she said she paid an $80 fine and had to get a ticket to go home.
But even after that she said she was locked up again, causing her to miss her flight.
She was not given any paperwork and said she was never told what law she broke.
"I've never been so grateful to be Australian," she said.
"The women in there said I was lucky but I didn't feel lucky. I was terrified. I thought how can you even breathe without breaking down."
Ms Licciardo said she has been going to Thailand for 14 years and has never spoken bad of the country but would now never return.