I have just returned to Bangkok from Kuala Lumpur of Malaysia, where I spent 3 days trying to understand what the main challenges are for the refugees in that country, and also what various organisations and the Government of Malaysia do to help them out. As expected, what I saw and experienced there is not a happy story. Refugees’ most basic rights in Malaysia are violated. Tens of thousands of people, who have fled to that country in search of safety are faced with slavery work, with lack of access to basic services such as health care or housing. People live on the edge, many engage in prostitution, and in slavery work, just so that they could survive yet another day. What is striking is that even if they are humiliated so badly they still feel that they are ‘lucky’. Just think about it, how bad you must have felt ‘home’, if you still think, after being raped, or after having worked for hours in the building site without being paid a penny, you still think that you are lucky. Where has the world gone to? How is it possible that in a 21st Century, a wealthy country, such as Malaysia allows for ‘de facto’ slavery within its borders? I search for the answers, and I can’t find any explanation, really! What is even more disturbing is that many international institutions, such as UNHCR, UN in general and diplomatic missions of countries, which supposedly ‘adhere to various international human rights treaties and conventions’ do not have enough guts to make a brave and open statement against these violations. It is quite amazing to see that our governments are able to turn their blind eyes on such a gross abuse, so that the trade and ‘good relations’ can continue. I know that this is how the world seems to be functioning, but I disagree with it, disagree with it with my full heart and with all passion that I can muster… I will always do that, even if no one else is ready to listen.
In the meanwhile, we received some sad news from Australia. Tahir’s offshore humanitarian visa (in another words application for an asylum) was rejected by the authorities. They told him that they actually thought that his claim had grounds, and recognised that it is dangerous for him to return to Pakistan and indeed to remain in Thailand, but nevertheless they would not offer him resettlement, because his links with Australia are not ‘strong enough’. Again, I am just wondering whether how is it that the Australian Government expects the most vulnerable people to have ‘links to Australia’? Where is the ‘humanitarian’ side of this visa? Do you really expect that a person, being persecuted in his/her country, usually without any means, education, etc. miraculously have ‘links’ to Australia? I feel like using some very inappropriate words… so it is better that I stop here and abstain.
Things with Poland are not better. We now believe that Poland will even not look at Tahir’s asylum application, despite amazing efforts of Sister Malgorzata. Poland is extremely closed to the idea of supporting refugees and victims of wars, so perhaps it is hardly surprising, nevertheless very, very disappointing. In any case, the visit of the Pope Francis has brought some attention to the issue of the refugees in the country. Sister Malgorzata has even managed to beautifully advocate for Tahir’s case in the main news channel in the primetime (please the see link of the interview here, though only available in Polish).
Now that Australia and Poland reject helping Tahir, we are running out of options. We will still be appealing in both countries, but let’s face it, the hopes there are fading. Now, the only real option is Canada. We will be filling our application there, as soon as UNHCR office here in Bangkok finally confirms Tahir’s refugee status (still may take a lot of time).
So many disappointing news here, I am afraid. We are not giving up though. We must find the way in one or another way. We may still not know what we can do to help Tahir, but we will never give up!
Okay, I will be honest, I am losing hope that we will be able to find some viable solution to help Tahir. We have engaged on so many fronts in trying to find a place for him to live, so that he can at least start start trying to have a feeling of normal life. So far all attempts fail, and despite countless enquires, begging emails, arguments on humanitarian grounds… nothing seems to be working, and as far as I am concerned, we are losing the fight for Tahir. Here are the reasons:
- Future in Pakistan: Clearly, Tahir has no future in Pakistan. Ahmadiyya people, especially younger men are hated there, just because they are Ahmadiyya. In his native village, there are people waiting for him ready to kill him, just because he merely was trying to stand up to the leaders of the local Sunni mosque defending his right to run a small stall with textiles.
- Future in Thailand: Staying in Thailand could be an option… but only if the authorities granted him a right to stay. Sadly, Thailand is not a signatory of the Geneva Convention on Refugees, and therefore, as such, is not obliged to follow international standards on protecting refugees. Consequently, Thailand does not have laws that would regularise people like Tahir, and prevent them from having normal lives. Tahir is not allowed to be here, not mentioning having a right to work, or attend a school. He has no right for a medial insurance… Technically, he is not allowed to exist here. The only way to survive in Thailand is either our continuous financial support, and counting on luck not to get arrested, or falling seriously sick. Then of course, he could get arrested, and spend years in a detention centre waiting for some kind of miracle to be resettled somewhere (very unlikely).
- Future in Poland: After some vague hope of being able to send him there, so that he could start his life there, it is clear that the authorities of Poland, the whole system just does not want to extend any protection to Tahir. All of our application, one by one are not even considered. The officials keep on telling us that they would like to help, but there is not a legal framework to do that. Call me naive, or call me whatever you want… I will never accept it. Perhaps, I will not be able to do much about it, and will be defeated, but I will never, never accept the reasoning that one can not help saving a human life, because the regulations are not foreseeing a situation that someone can be helped without putting public resources at strain (clearly, many of us are ready to cover all the costs relating to his resettlement to Poland).
- Future in other countries: We also are trying to resettle Tahir to Canada, USA or Australia. His application for a resettlement there is however hugely dependent on UNHCR. His applications may be considered by these countries (without a guarantee of being successful), only if UNHCR in Thailand processes his refugee claim in Bangkok. The problem is that the organisation is painfully slow, and despite having waited for 3 years, we still do not have any answer from UNHCR on his official status. We may still need to be waiting for a year or more, before he is granted the UNHCR refugee status… and when this is done, we could only start resettlement application, which are not likely to be successful and take forever (literally years).
I know that there are millions of people in a situation of Tahir, but it is Tahir that I am trying to help, and for me, he is a personification of failure of humanity, and a proof showing that one is unable to make a difference, even if trying to do whatever could possibly be done. There are many reasons and many people that are directly responsible for his suffering in his own country, but equally many of us, who fail extending a helping hand, even if we could do it easily. This makes me sad, makes me angry, and frustrated. My frustration does not mean much and will not change the fate of Tahir and similar to hime in the longer run, but there it is: I feel powerless, and upset and I have run out of ideas of what else could be done. I am not proud of my country, I am not proud of being a European and I am not proud of being a human being. Collectively, as humans we failing those whom we could help, and most of us fail individually too.
In absence of good news… one needs to concentrate on positive stuff that happens to you on daily basis. Well, what is exciting these days is that in one week, together with Tahir, we are planning to visit one of the Thailand’s national parks. We go to see the Khwae River and its surroundings in the western part of the country. Pictures will certainly follow, and we are expecting some spectacular views, as it is meant to be a very special part of Thailand.