Asylum Seekers

Graduating From Asylum-seeker To Refugee

There are three families here that just attained to the coveted ‘refugee’ status through the UNHCR.  They want their identities protected.
Did you know that there is a process by which one ‘graduates’ from ‘asylum-seeker’ to ‘refugee’ ?
Most people would hate to called a ‘refugee’, with all it implies.  But for asylum-seekers in Thailand it is a coveted status.  Not just anyone is a refugee.  Becoming a refugee generally takes years.  “Really?” you say?  That’s right.  You see, in the UNHCR’s system, you start off as an ‘asylum-seeker’ and you are seeking ‘refugee status’.  The UNHCR’s job, in large part, is to determine if your case is legitimate.  If they deem that it is, then you are given the official designation of ‘refugee’ and you enter a whole new world of opportunities.  Principally, you become eligible for refugee resettlement, which is the end goal of asylum-seekers in the first place.  However, notice we just said ‘eligible’ for resettlement.  There are no guarantees that you will be resettled.  One friend is in his seventh year in Bangkok and was granted refugee status three years ago but has heard nothing about resettlement.  Nevertheless, if you ever hope that the UNHCR could resettle you, you must first attain to the coveted status of ‘refugee’.
So it is with great pleasure and excitement that we learned today that three of the families involved with the Love Movement were granted refugee status by the UNHCR!  That was no mean feat.  It took three years and four months to achieve.  During that time, heads of all three families were arrested by Thai immigration for visa overstay (a very common problem for asylum-seekers as they simply don’t have the resources to maintain a visa), they endured months of detention in the infamous Immigration Detention Center and having been lucky enough to have been bailed out from there before bails were effectively ended nearly two years ago, they have had to report twice monthly to immigration, while all the while struggling to pay rent, food, medical expenses, transportation expenses, etc., etc.
All three of these families share the same case so they share a common fate.  The most nerve-wracking part of this is that nearly everything hangs on whether they get refugee status or not.  If they do not, and the UNHCR closes their case, then Thai immigration will revoke their bail and they must return to the Immigration Detention Center and face literally indefinite detention.  This is a sort of war of attrition against asylum-seekers.  There are slim possibilities that asylum-seekers whose cases have been closed by the UNHCR could find a private sponsor that could get them to a third country but it is very rare.
The Pakistanis that end up back in detention after revocation of their bail generally end up going back to Pakistan in spite of the dangers.  It’s either that or be stuck in detention.  There is one advantage they have when they go back that they didn’t have before and that is years of experience and maturation that makes them wise and more aware and will likely serve them well in being able to steer clear of the dangers they had been caught up in before.  Nevertheless, it is a less than desirable choice they are forced to make and, given the generally low economic standing of ex-asylum-seekers, probably ends the possibility that they could ever get out of Pakistan.
However, if they do get refugee status, the Thai government continues to respect their bail, and they are on track for resettlement to a third country.
So, you can imagine how our three families felt this morning as they made their ways to the UNHCR offices to receive their results.  “Will we get refugee status or not?”  “What happens if we don’t?”  “We don’t even want to think about that, so, please, God, help us!  Give us refugee status, please!”  If there is one pivotal moment in their lives as asylum-seekers in Thailand, this is it!  The tension is further heightened by the fact that the overwhelming majority of cases are refused.  Anecdotally, we’ve heard it’s over 80% refusal rate.  So, going in, one’s chances are slim.
Imagine further, then, the great excitement and rejoicing upon learning that they were granted refugee status!  This one day, June 6, 2017, is a special day in their history that helped determine their future.  In their long journey they are now one big step closer.  There is a great sense of relief that attends everything now, a big psychological boost, a new lightness in the step, a great thankfulness toward God.
Our friends have now officially graduated from asylum-seekers to refugees!  It’s almost like a right of passage and few get to experience it.  But it is a true graduation and a stepping from one role into another.  So, congratulations to our families on their special day!
But this not where everything ends.  As recipients of a special blessing, these families see a sense of providence and purpose.  They are now in a higher position of advantage, and in that sense they have been chosen to lead and help their fellow asylum-seekers from that position.  The plan of the Love Movement is to rescue families and get them on a firm footing and then they can start rescuing more families until it grows to the point that the problem is solved.
Is There A Way I Can Help These Families?

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