Fifty four illegal Myanmar immigrants died of suffocation while being smuggled into Thailand in a refrigerated container near the Thai-Myanmar border, a police officer said on Thursday.
Another 67 Myanmar citizens in the same vehicle were rescued from the 20-ft container truck, with over 20 being treated in hospital, the police officer in the western coastal Thai province of Ranong told Reuters.
"They were kept inside the sealed truck for hours without air because the air-conditioning system failed. Many of them pounded the sides of the truck for help," Sergeant Phuvanai Wattanasamai said.
The driver of the truck parked the vehicle on a road about five to six kilometres from the coast, let his passengers out, and fled the scene before midnight on Wednesday, Phuvanai said.
"We don't know how long they had been hidden inside the truck (container), but over 100 were packed into the vehicle," he said.
Colonel Kraithong Chanthongbai, a senior officer in the Ranong police force, told Reuters that 37 of the dead were women and police had detained 46 survivors for illegal entry.
Police were also hunting for the driver and planned to question officials from the seafood company that owned the truck.
"We want to know if they are part of trafficking rings in the area," Kraithong said.
More than one million people from neighbouring army-ruled Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are estimated to work in Thailand, mostly as illegal workers in factories, restaurants, at petrol pumps, and as domestic helpers or crew on fishing trawlers.
They are usually hidden under goods such as vegetable or fruit in small or big overloaded trucks, leading to tragic road accidents.
Last year a pickup truck with 40 passengers crashed near the northern Thai border, killing 11 Myanmar workers. (Reuters)
Fifty four Myanmar migrants suffocate in container