A Journey With Urban Refugees In Bangkok

Michael Kelly

Some days I feel like a people trafficker, though I'm not making a zack out of the trafficking. Other days I see myself as a latter-day Oskar Schindler. But mostly I just feel trapped along with the 1000 refugees and asylum seekers I'm doing my not-very-successful best to get the hell out of an open prison called Bangkok.

Their key features are well known — there are between five and six thousand men, women an children living as 'urban' refugees and asylum seekers (who don't have status as refugees conferred by the UNHCR); they are escapees of state-permitted persecution, from Pakistan, South Sudan, Iran, parts of Africa, even Vietnam — the tribal Montagnards collaborated with the Americans during the Vietnam War, and the Communist Vietnamese government won't forgive or forget that.

They aren't to be confused with the tens of thousands of tribal people from Myanmar who have been in camps along the Thai/Myanmar border for decades. Most don't want resettlement in a third country but to return to their own once the conflicts that drove them out are settled.

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