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'News from Roman' is a place where I write about events or experiences that are important to me for one or another reason. It is a space where family and friends can get themselves updated on my latest undertakings, and where occasional readers can learn about issues which are important to me.

Archives (2nd May 2016): May greetings from Bangkok

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Bangkok! It has been a long and very hot dry season here… if you believe what the media says, we have had the hottest dry season for last 60 years! One really feels it. Bangkok is unbearably warm, and even simple daily chores seem to be a challenge. I actually stopped going for walks… and for me it is a big decision. I love walking! Good news is that yesterday, we had a good and generous rain. This made the temperatures slightly more liveable, but also marked a beginning of a rainy season. Okay, proper rains will only begin in 2 months, but nevertheless, we were all very enthusiastic to welcome the thunderstorm!

Life is exciting and at time stressful here. I keep on travelling a lot – both for work and for personal reasons. A highlight is that I recently travelled to Timor Leste, the country that I had known very little of. I went there, as the place is badly affected by severe droughts… As the droughts often do, they tend to have quite bad negative effects on lives of farmers, whose crops die out due to lack of water. This is definitely a case in that little country, where for thousands of people, this disaster translated into a complete destruction of their livelihoods. People I spoke to all told me that the drought that they experience is the worst ever in the living memory of the people. Good news is that there are some initiatives from various organisations and institutions to counter-balance the crisis, so hopefully things will get a bit better for some of the people soon.

Mongolia is another example of the climatic change craziness. I may have mentioned to you before that the country experience one of the more severe winter, which resulted in a phenomenon that is referred to as ‘dzud’. Dzuds are essentially very cold snaps that last for prolonged periods of time. They can be very destructive. If they last too long and are too severe, they can cause death of livestock… Death of livestock for nomadic people of Mongolia is an economical, social and cultural catastrophe. For many farmers in the country, livestock is an essence of live. When cows die, their owners are destined for migration to Ulaanbaatar, the migration that often transforms people’s lives into destitution: as they end up in overcrowded shantytowns, with very poor prospects of getting any work. Unfortunately, we are hearing that this winter, 830,000 animals died… The consequences of this will likely be very depressing and harsh for many, many people. Climate change is so real!

But enough of work! I should tell you a bit more about some of the personal stuff. The most important: Tahir is well and fine. There is some positive news from Thailand. Although, things are far from being perfect, it seems like the authorities of this country are a little friendlier and more understanding towards the needs of the refugees and asylum seekers, who ended up here. Okay, the change is not a major breakthrough, and Thailand still does not officially protect the refugees within its borders, but it seems that police visibly stopped harassing people on streets. If an asylum seeker/refugee is able to produce an identification from UNHCR, they are not detained anymore… but are left in peace. People still officially cannot work, or even exist… but just a mere fact that there is no appetite for detaining them makes a huge difference. We have enjoyed this change in policy for 2 months now, but we are unable to say whether the change is permanent… Let’s hope that things will only get better… though I do not want to be overly optimistic… Tahir still practices an utmost care when walking around Bangkok. He avoids places where he could be detained, and tries to be as invisible as possible. This is tiring and frustrating for him, but keeps him relatively safe.

I recently returned from Australia. I went there to visit Brisbane and Sydney – the cities which are homes to large groups of the Ahmadi communities. I went there with my Australian friend, who is now heavily involved in trying to get Tahir being resettled to the country. While touring the country, we met with many people: journalists, Ahmadi community leaders, and also people that seem to have experience with immigration matters. While, no one could possibly guarantee that Tahir would be able to get his humanitarian visa granted (we applied for it 3 months ago), there was some optimism… and some of the informants that we spoke to were cautiously optimistic about his case. This is good news, and we keep our fingers crossed that Australia works out for Tahir! Here, I would like to thank my friend Lucy, for being the most amazing advocate in Tahir’s case in Australia. We have managed to progress a lot on the Australian humanitarian visa front, but nothing would be possible without her.
Another piece of news is that Tahir’s interview with UNHCR here in Thailand is scheduled for 9th June. This is an important milestone for him and for our case. The interview that he will be having is meant to establish officially that his case is legitimate and that his life in Pakistan is indeed in danger to the point that he cannot live there, and needs to receive a protection outside of this country: essentially become a refugee. While interviews are indeed stressful, we expect that he should be granted his status. His case is strong and legitimate, and we hope that he will be able to receive his official refugee status soon. If he receives his refugee status, there will be some additional options to help him out. While having an official refugee status does not change his situation in Thailand greatly, a fact that he is a refugee may help him in our attempts to resettle him to a 3rd country. Here, we count on Canada, which has a very interesting programme for resettlement for officially recognised refugees (as, we hope Tahir will be), who are based in countries that do not recognise refugees (as it is a case of Thailand). Together with some of my Canadian friends, we have already done some preparatory work… and we will launch an application for Tahir’s resettlement to Canada the moment that we get his refugee status confirmed (this of course, in case that we do not have any news/positive news from our Australia humanitarian visa application).

In order to give you a complete picture of where we are in helping Tahir, I need to tell you that in a very odd and unusual way, there are still some slim chances that Tahir would be getting a visa to Poland, so that he could travel there, and apply for his asylum in there. Things with Poland are however extremely vague, and complicated to the point that I will refrain from giving you more explanation at this stage. I will only ask you that you all keep your fingers crossed on 11th May… the date when we are planning to apply for his visa to Poland. In case, things work out… I will tell you more! Happy

I need to say that I feel a bit odd about ’the Polish option’ for Tahir. You all are aware that I am extremely disappointed with how things develop in my own country. I dislike what happens there to the point that I decided to permanently resettle from there myself… (as you may remember to Portugal), so an idea that Tahir may actually end up in Poland is somehow a bit strange and to some extent uncomfortable! Again, I will write you more on the issue, if it was to work out…

Otherwise, my days and weeks are all about learning Spanish… I do study every day, and good news is that I feel more and more comfortable using the language. I will carry on studying hard for next few months… Here a big thank you goes to my Mexican teacher Carlos! He has not given up on me, and he bravely confronts my downs and encourages me to do a decent job!

Voila… this is all for today. I will be so very happy to hear news from you soon!

Lots of love and hugs to all of you,