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Syrian Refugees in Thailand: A Life in Limbo

Instead of heading westward towards Europe – and risk drowning in the Mediterranean during the arduous journey, a slew of Syrian refugees decided to try their luck in Southeast Asia instead. However, for most of them, they escaped death just to step into a life of constant fear and hardship.

In a recent feature, the Guardian tells the story of Syrian refugees living in Thailand. While the relative stability of the Southeast Asian nation is a welcome change, refugees in Thailand are virtually stateless: the country is not a signatory to the refugee convention, therefore it neither recognizes nor protects them.

For 58-year-old Nassr, his days in Thailand mostly revolve around waiting. As illegal immigrants, refugees cannot get jobs, go to school or afford to be seen too often outside. Nassr arrived in Thailand on a tourist visa as it’s the last country with an open consulate in Damascus, the capital of Syria.

Initially, his family got to Asia based on a friend’s assurance that the United Nations would provide shelter and help them relocate. However, four years have gone by and they’re still here, with no leaving date in sight.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), they need to wait for at least two years. “Asylum applications are assessed on the merits of each case, on a first come, first served basis, prioritising those who are considered vulnerable,” writes the news source.

There are a few hundred cases like Nassr in Thailand, who became illegal immigrants once their three-month tourist visa expired. Immigration police often appear out of nowhere. If caught, refugees can be jailed in detention centers.

The situation is vastly more optimistic for 15-year-old Zahra whose family has received resettlement papers for the US. Less 1% of all refugees are this lucky.

“Still, I will miss Thailand,” she told the Guardian. “It hasn’t been easy, but it has been better than living in war.”

[Photo via Flickr user Alex Berger]

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