11 April 2014 (Coconuts Media) — A group of more than 30 Palestinian refugees who fled the ongoing war in Syria to Thailand protested their lack of international protection yesterday in front of the United Nations building in Bangkok.
Holding dozens of white roses to symbolize a desire for peace, protesters called on the United Nations to expedite their applications for refugee status to help them move on from a vulnerable existence in the legal margins of Thailand.
“Everyone thinks we are terrorists, but we ran away from the war in Syria just asking to survive,” said Tammam, 37, who fled to Bangkok through Beirut with his wife and 9-year-old son seven months ago.
The group is asking to stay in Thailand legally while the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) gives them refugee status and resettles them elsewhere. Although 17 countries worldwide such as the United States, Canada and Australia pledged to accept nearly 19,000 Syrian refugees in 2013, it is unclear whether Palestinians are included, despite having lived in civil war-ravaged Syria for generations.
“Syria was our home. I still have a part of me left behind there,” said Ibrahim Ghazal, 22, from Yarmouk Camp in Damascus, who fled because he did not want to join the Syrian Army. “If I stayed, I would have been forced to kill people.”
The refugees’ biggest fear survival, and staying without breaking the law by not having valid visas. The protest — a risky move for a group in the country technically illegally— is the first desperate plea for humanitarian compassion made publicly since arriving more than half a year ago.
“During this time, my grandmother has died here, and we have many health problems. Now we can only afford to eat one time per day,” said Tammam, who explained that his wife is pregnant and struggles to find two meals to eat each day.
The Palestinian-Syrians, who entered on valid visas purchased in Lebanon (which they sold many of their assets to pay for), are now unable to renew their visas due to lack of funds and sometimes more bureaucratic barriers — in Cambodia and Laos, their Palestinian travel documents are not always recognized.
“Palestinians are extremely vulnerable because they do not have support from any state entity, consulate or nation they can appeal to. They are double term refugees,” said Leon Deleon, the Secretary of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, a Thailand-based advocacy group for Palestinians worldwide.
“These people carry so much trauma and displacement in this diaspora, there is no counselling or healthcare services for them [including the pregnant women],” Deleon added.
Currently, 12 Palestinian-Syrian refugees, including two children aged 4 and 8 detained with their mother for more than five months, are in the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre for not having valid Thai visas. Three more are being held in the Krabi town jail.
“You can see me now, but tomorrow you might find me in IDC,” said an older, greying Palestinian-Syrian man, who did not want to be named due to his status.