More about accompanying client to UNHCR:
When the day of the accompaniment arrived, I left early in the morning to account for Bangkok traffic. I brought everything I’d need with me including my accompaniment notebook, Muji pens I picked up specifically for this interview, my passport to show UNHCR, etc. Once I arrived at the UN, I saw the signature flags raised outside the building. I walked around to get to the UNHCR section/office, which was quite discreet, with a huge United Nations ESCAP sign, then a smaller sign below indicating the entrance for UNHCR. There’s a complaint & suggestion box, as well as a mailbox for submissions outside the entrance. My client arrived shortly after I did. The security officer checked our documents, then let us into the building, where they confiscated our electronic devices. From there, we waited until the client was called back for the first instance refugee status determination interview.
sign for UNHCR office
kitty who kept me company on my lunch break
Some sections of the interview include the introduction, biodata checking, asking why the asylum-seeker left their country of origin/why they cannot go back, and follow-up questions. Some clients will require a follow-up interview, particularly if there are a lot of incidents or details to their claim. After all FI RSD interviews have been conducted, then the client will receive the notification of decision letter from UNHCR i.e., whether or not they will be granted refugee status.
This is an incredible opportunity and experience, as I am able to support the client and also see firsthand how UNHCR is conducting the RSD interviews.
I am witnessing more and more the impact that AAT has on the outcome of clients’ cases with UNHCR. For example, I’ve seen AAT flag certain cases to UNHCR to help speed up a step in the RSD process (like registration), especially if the client has been waiting a long time, and then the client(s) will subsequently be registered or receive the update. It is important for refugees in Thailand to have the UNHCR card (received after registration) in order to receive increased access to services like healthcare.
Stages in the RSD process for asylum-seekers:
Although I touched on these stages previously, some of my earlier posts got deleted due to technical errors, so I thought I’d include this information again here for further clarity.
- Submit registration request
- Registration interview
- First instance interview(s)
- RSD result
- 30 days to appeal (if rejected)
- Might have an appeal interview
- Case is either accepted or rejected (again)
- Can submit request to reopen case (if case has been rejected on appeal)
Last week, I attended an event titled, “Thailand’s New National Screening Mechanism and the Future of Refugee Protection,” with panelists, Patrick Phongsathorn, senior advocacy specialist at Fortify Rights, and Prima Sukmanop, legal officer at Asylum Access Thailand and representative, Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP). The event was moderated by Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director and Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) board member. Representatives from UNHCR and the Thai government were invited, but did not participate in the event.
For a bit of background about the event, in 2019, then-prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha signed off on a “National Screening Mechanism” to change how Thailand deals with the challenges of protecting asylum-seekers and refugees. The Royal Thai Police and Ministry of Interior are to run the arrangement, screen applicants, and determine who will be a protected person and legally allowed to stay in Thailand. Those denied will face deportation. The system began in late September 2023, but there are many unanswered questions, and there has not been a rush of applicants.
Discussions from the event touched upon key principles under NSM, how the NSM regulation has been interpreted and implemented in parallel with Thai immigration and criminal procedure laws, as well as practical limitations relating to the processes. According to Prima, concerns were raised about “[h]ow the existing legal framework still criminalizes irregular migration by requiring NSM applicants to be prosecuted for immigration charges before they are eligible to apply for protection from refoulement.”
Below are notes and takeaways from the panelists:
Patrick Phongsathorn –
- The principle of non-refoulement – certain groups will automatically be screened out of the national mechanism. Refugees in nine camps along borders, migrant workers, and individuals considered to be a threat to national security will be automatically screened out, and they won’t be allowed to appeal.
- Applicants will be subject to criminal record and background checks. One of the biggest source countries for Thailand is Myanmar, so a political record check or criminal check raises red flags.
- There will be no automatic screening of refugees who are subject to deportation. Refugees have to know about the system and have help navigating it.
- Access to public services – NSM guarantees access to healthcare and education for people granted protected person status, but will need to see how that’s implemented in reality.
Prima Sukmanop –
- NSM is not a national asylum system. The reasoning lies behind the legal mechanisms currently available in Thailand.
- NSM offers protection against refoulement, but it doesn’t fully recognize the right to seek asylum. The Immigration Act still exists alongside NSM. People interested in going through NSM would first have to be prosecuted under immigration law (perhaps done through an arrest), go through the court process and be penalized/fined, then transferred to immigration authorities and custody. At the point of deportation custody, then NSM would intervene.
- NSM only aims to screen urban refugees already charged with illegal entry or overstay.
- Camp refugees are managed by the Ministry of Interior and are already subject to their own specific system, therefore they are not eligible for NSM.
- NSM is not a durable solution because it doesn’t provide a pathway to livelihood or status, although it does provide education and healthcare.
- If applicants are given protected person status, they will be granted an identity card that will be valid for five years, but the question is what happens after those five years are up.
Lack of resources – the interpretations will be to Thai. Since there are not as many people in Thailand in this context who speak Thai, there’s a possibility that there could be two different interpreters e.g., applicant’s language to Thai and English to Thai. This leaves more room for misunderstanding.
It’s starting to feel like Thailand’s “winter,” with temperatures of low 70s in the mornings, then reaching the high 80s/90 during the day. I’ve been loving this cooler weather! Since I arrived in Thailand during the hottest time, 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit feels like a breath of fresh air to me.
monitor lizard at the park
and... the many cats of Sena Nikhom (my neighborhood), featuring Steven’s twin