According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) almost 8,000 asylum seekers, from countries like Syria, Somalia and Pakistan, live in Bangkok and other urban centers in Thailand.
Many were smuggled into the country, after fleeing persecution in their homeland.
Unrecognized and stuck in limbo asylum seekers are subject to harassments and arrests.
But since the Erawan bombing last month, authorities have intensified their crackdown, meaning asylum seekers are living in even more uncertainty and fear.
** All names in this story have been changed to protect identities.
Many Pakistanis flee their country looking for a better life, says 35-year-old asylum seeker Nadeem – but they don’t always find it.
For the pastthree years Nadeem has spent his days in the Thai capital Bangkok living in limbo and despair.
“We are waiting for the UNHCR, and it takes us [a] very long time,” he said, “Life is not easy here, in many ways… We don’t have money, food, [or a] job.”
The process of seeking asylum through the UNHCR can take years. And because Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention they are not officially recognized.
Nadeem says he fled Pakistan after his house was burned and his family was threatened because he worked for a Christian organization.
Now he is in Thailand with his family, but he has spent most of his time hiding in an apartment in the outskirts of Bangkok.
He says he wouldn’t recommend other Pakistanis to follow his journey.
Illegal and vulnerable, asylum seekers, he says, are subject to harassment or arrests.
“I ask all Pakistanis not to come to Thailand. I know we have many problems back home, but Thailand is not a place for us,” he said, “They should find other country.”
Prakong Pongtech is a Thai volunteer who works with asylum seekers in the capital.
She says that since the bombing of the Erawan shrine last month, which killed 20 people, the Thai authorities have been cracking down on illegal migrants like Nadeem and his family.
“Three hundred people were arrested in one single day, others just fled and went into hiding and they are extremely scared even now,” she explains.
Prakong is explaining the day when the Thai police raided theNadeem’s apartment building, where almost 2,000 Pakistanis asylum seekerswere living.
In the aftermath of the bombing, police conducted raids across the city in their search for foreigners believed to be behind the incident.
In this one apartment building hundreds were arrested and 70 still remain in prison.
On the day of the police raid, says Prakong, 500 others fled to a nearby house to hide out.
“They fled and campedout in one small house for a week until we insisted that things were better and they could go back to their rooms,” said Prakong.
When the military junta came into power last year they started to crackdown on the illegal migrant community.
But after the Erawan bombing, the situation has become much more dangerous for asylum seekers.
“They left… They have left… this is also left,” says Natika, owner the apartment building that was raided, as she inspects the empty rooms.
After the police crackdown many of those who lived in the building fled in a rush and haven’t returned.
About 1,000 Pakistani asylum seekers have stayed in the building but they are afraid to go out, fearing for their safety.
Some even lock their doors from the outside, pretending that no one is home.
Asylum seeker 8-year-old Ahmed, knows the situation all too well.
He lives with his five siblings, parents and grandparents in the dingy apartment on the outskirts of Bangkok. He says the apartment is the same size of his kitchen back home in Pakistan.
The family fled Pakistan two years and Ahmed hasn’t been back to school since. He wants to return, but his parents won’t allow it. They fear he might get arrested.
They won’t even let him outside for some fresh air. Only the bigger kids are allowed on the roof of the building, they say, and Ahmed is too small to run away from the police if they come.
Ahmed says he can’t remember much of Pakistan anymore, but he does remember this one song. As he passes the days in hiding in Bangkok, he has sung it so many times he may never forget it.
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