Asylum Access Thailand provides legal counsel and representation to refugees seeking asylum in refugee status determination proceedings conducted by the UN refugee agency in Bangkok. Our clients come from over 20 different nationalities. While the majority are from Sri Lanka and Pakistan, we also see clients from Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Viet Nam, Cote d’Ivoire, and many other countries. To address the critical need for legal aid in dozens of languages, we also train refugees as legal interpreters.
Formally a project of the Human Right and Development Foundation in Thailand, AAT works in coalition with other Thai and southeast Asian organizations to advocate for changes in Thai law and policy that will create stronger protections for refugees and asylum-seekers.
Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no domestic legislation governing refugees. Most urban refugees arrive with a genuine passport and tourist visa, although some arrive on fake passports, with their passage secured by people smugglers. They have usually exhausted most of their savings to come to Thailand. Once their tourist visas expire, under Thai law, they are considered illegal migrants. As a result, they are at constant risk of arrest and detention, even when the UN has recognized their refugee status. The police often harass and extort refugees and then release them, but arrest can also result in indefinite detention.
Refugees have no right to work legally, and it is difficult to find employment, even in the informal sector. Most urban refugees in Thailand live a precarious existence: Unable to work, often unable to send their children to school, they are typically financially stressed, dependent on ad-hoc charity to survive, at risk of exploitation and constantly worried about being arrested and indefinitely detained. Many have physical and psychological health problems resulting from the trauma that they have experienced in their home countries, compounded by their difficult living conditions in Bangkok.
Refugees, particularly Africans, often face harassment and discrimination from the Thai community. Many refugees were unaware how difficult conditions would be in Thailand before they came, often having been misled by agents or people-smugglers.
Even if refugees obtain refugee status, their chances of being resettled outside of Thailand are not high, and they face serious ongoing protection problems while they remain in Thailand. AAT is working to change this.