Thailand refugees

A quest for education: Asad’s story

Asad graduated from high school at the top of his class. With a thirst for knowledge and a gift for languages, including English, he dreamed of pursuing a university education. His prospects should have looked bright indeed. But this was a country at war. And at age 20 he decided to flee for his own safety, leaving his wife and daughter behind in the only country they had ever known: Somalia.

Dreams in tow, he arrived in Thailand hoping to pursue his studies and better provide for his family. Little did he know attending school would put him at risk of arrest and indefinite detention. Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and thus does not recognize refugees’ rights, so Asad was considered an illegal migrant. Stripped of his legal identity, he was denied access to basic services like healthcare, employment and education.

“I was disappointed and wanted to give up on pursuing my studies.”

Nonetheless, Asad persevered. Even when formal education wasn’t an option, he was determined to build his professional repertoire. That’s when he heard about Asylum Access Thailand (AAT), and in 2016 he began taking on leadership opportunities. He served as a community interpreter to help others access their potential, and gained legal skills in Thai and international law. He began providing legal consultations to empower others in the Somali refugee community who faced similar challenges.

Still, a formal education is what Asad knew he needed to advance and provide his family with the life he thought they deserved.

That’s when Asad joined the Bangkok Refugee Youth Club (BRYC), an AAT supported group that aims to expand education access for refugee youth through outreach, research and civic engagement. In April of this year, BRYC conducted a workshop for refugees interested in university study, informing them of available programs and scholarship opportunities. Several students took admissions tests for an online higher education degree program. Eight of them passed.

One of the eight accepted applicants was Asad himself.

“Through the motivational advice I received from Asylum Access Thailand and from the knowledge I gained through the Bangkok Refugee Youth Club, I gained the courage to continue pursuing my dreams. I’m now enrolled in an accredited university.”

As remarkable as it is, Asad’s story is not uncommon. Individuals who flee violence and persecution — and often with it, their jobs and degrees — for a more secure life, find themselves with few options to prosper in their new homes. However, when refugees like Asad have a platform to use their voice and advocate for their rights, they can rebuild their lives and make a difference in their communities.

Asad has now been reunited with his wife and daughter in Thailand, and is studying at the University of the People, an online tuition-free college. He currently awaits refugee status determination. Using his voice, he continues to empower others in his community to realize their dreams just as he did. In his refusal to give up, and in using his talents to unlock others’ potential, he became the author of his own destiny.

To protect the privacy of our refugee partners, photographs and names have been changed in this story.