Asylum Access Thailand (AAT), established in 2007, provides legal counsel and representation to refugees seeking asylum in refugee status determination proceedings conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Bangkok. Our clients come from over 40 different nationalities. While the majority are from Pakistan and Somalia, we also see clients from Sri Lanka, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other countries. To address the critical need for legal aid in dozens of languages, we train refugees as legal interpreters.
AAT works in coalition with other Thai and southeast Asian organizations, including the Core Urban Refugee Network (CURN) and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN). Through these partnerships, we collectively advocate for changes in Thai law and policy that will create stronger protections for refugees and asylum-seekers throughout the region.
Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no domestic legislation governing refugees. As a result, refugees are considered illegal migrants and are at constant risk of arrest and indefinite detention, even when the United Nations (UN) has recognized their refugee status.
At the historic UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants in September 2016, the government of Thailand committed to changes that would make legal stay in Thailand easier for refugees. Subsequently, the government has been working with civil society organizations, including AAT, to develop a government-run refugee status determination process that would identify and grant temporary legal stay to refugees in Thailand. AAT is playing a leading role on this issue through its membership in the advocacy group, Coalition for Rights of Refugee and the Stateless Persons (CRSP).
Still, refugees don’t have the 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 and provide for their families, send their children to school they are often financially stressed, dependent on ad-hoc charity to survive and at risk of exploitation, arrest and indefinite detention. Many have physical and psychological health problems resulting from the trauma that they have experienced in their home countries, compounded by their difficult living situations in Bangkok. Even if refugees obtain refugee status, their chances of being resettled outside of Thailand are low, and they face serious ongoing protection problems while they remain in Thailand. AAT is working to change this by advocating for refugees’ right to work, referring refugees to available resources and services in Bangkok and supporting them in their social and economic integration into Thailand.
In 2017, AAT launched the Community Paralegal program, which aims to provide access to justice and empowerment to the community of asylum seekers and refugees in Bangkok. Community paralegals are refugees themselves, and are trained in basic legal skills and Thai and international law to respond to the needs of their communities. Through this program, AAT is able to increase capacity in handling the growing demand for protection services in Bangkok, and reach clients who may be unable or unwilling to come to the AAT office — these are often the most vulnerable refugees.