Living on the Margins
There are around 97,000 refugees in Thailand. Around 5,000 of these are asylum seekers who live in Bangkok and urban areas. Once refugees are in Thailand, they are either living without a visa (and thus illegal), are identified as a refugee (have a refugee status) by the UN, or taken to Immigration Detention Centres around the country. The majority of these refugees are either in the IDC or living illegally in urban areas.
Outside of the IDC - Source
Many of the refugees living outside of the IDC have basic living conditions, as refugees cannot legally earn money. Systems such as LifeRaft, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Asylum Access and Center for Asylum Protection (CAP) provide some support, but support from the government is nonexistent.
Those living inside the IDC are separated between males and females (the children with the females), meaning that families are split apart for up to months at a time. The only time that families may see each other is if people from outside of the IDC visit all of the family members at the same time (one person can only visit one detainee). Not only does the IDC split families apart, but the IDC also holds over twice the number of people it was built for. This means that the rooms are cramped and overcrowded. Detainees must take turns sleeping on the floor at night. Detainees may stay in this prison for their whole life unless they are bailed out, returned to their home country, or are accepted to go to another country with the process taking up to years. Even then, a country can decline their case, leaving the refugees with no options.
Detainees in the Immigration Detention Centre, Bangkok - Source
While the life of a refugee living in Thailand is difficult and challenging, COVID has made the situation for many refugees even worse. Visitors are not allowed to visit the IDC, meaning families do not get to see each other and the detainees have less chances of stepping out of their cells. Refugees outside of the IDC are also suffering because of the virus.
An interview with an urban refugee (A.S) living in Bangkok gives insight to the struggle that many refugees are facing right now.
1. What is the situation for refugees at the moment, especially with Covid?
Many refugees are facing additional difficulties as a result of COVID. Some refugees previously had informal work (illegal work which means that they may get paid less than the basic wage and have no rights and are often abused) but due to Covid-19 they lost their jobs. Currently there is high unemployment in the general Thai population especially the poor and those who worked in the tourist industry. Many refugees previously were receiving food support from churches but they stopped receiving food and other help from churches since some churches are closed and most do not have special budgets most to support refugees.
2. What are people doing to get income?
Some people had informal work opportunities (e.g in shops and cafes or doing cleaning and sewage work) but due to the Covid-19 surge those opportunities do not exist anymore. Some refugees got work on a Netflix series that was filmed last month in Bangkok (Extraction). Refugees worked as extras and made some money which can be used for next month. I have heard that some Pakistani refugee families go to Sikh temples to get free meals.
3. What does RSR (Refugee Serving Refugees) do to support refugees?
RSR is helping refugees physically and spiritually. RSR is sending food for detainees twice a month in the four different immigration detention centers in Thailand, RSR also helps distribute around 50 food bags every month for the poorest refugees which last maybe for 10 days depending on the family size. RSR is doing Health clinics in 8 refugee communities and daily Zoom prayer meetings from 6 – 7 pm where 35 refugee families take part. RSR now has a register of families that are in need of food.
4. How can we help as a community?
Considering the current situation where many refugees are without enough food it would be good to provide cash or food bags including: Flour, rice, cooking oil, tea, sugar, lentils, chickpea flour, spices, vegetables, chicken, green peas, chilli powder and frozen fish. There are 140 families who need food support now.
To help these families, PhuLiPhay is planning to donate 30,000 baht worth of food and have them distributed to those who need it most.
“UNHCR Thailand Homepage.” UNHCR Thailand, www.unhcr.org/th/en#:~:text=Today%20there%20are%20some%2097%2C000,asylum%2Dseekers%20of%20some%2040.