Bangkok, 26 July 2017 – Fifty chairs and a stage were installed for this occasion. 50 chairs that would be soon filled by young boys and girls from different countries, with different lives, different cultures and different languages. The first to arrive were the Thai students of the Military Technical Training School in Bangkok welcoming the event. They waited, impatient to meet their soon-to-be new friends, and prepared the room. Then, the youth group from the asylum seekers and refugees communities arrived. Suddenly, the enthusiasm was overflowing amongst the students. They knew that this day will be about meeting new persons, sharing cultures and learning from each other.
Integration goes through education
In urban areas like Bangkok, access to education is a serious issue for asylum seekers and refugee children. Thailand became a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, agreeing that education should be available and accessible to all children without discrimination. Unfortunately, restrictive government policies for asylum seekers and refugees continue to prevent parents from sending their children to school.
As Thailand did not sign the 1951 Refugee Convention, the country’s policies do not distinguish between the asylum seeking/refugee population and other undocumented immigrants. Refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand are considered illegal residents. Parents fear arrest if they escort their child to school. As a result, education is inaccessible for many children and young adults.
JRS Thailand is very concerned about asylum seekers’ and refugee children’s inability to access education. This is why JRS Thailand decided to launch the Urban Education Project for Refugees in January 2017. It intends to give access to education to refugees and asylum seekers in Bangkok. It will also promote awareness and understanding in the Thai community of asylum seekers’ and refugee children’s dilemma.
“I want to learn how to be accepted by the Thai population”
Throughout the day, twenty-five young refugees from JRS Urban Education project and twenty-five Thai students from the Military Technical Training School met each other. The two groups discussed and mingled in order to get to know everyone. After a brief introduction, they showed their traditional clothing from Thailand, Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan. Then, they shared a meal of traditional food from each country. Later, everyone played cricket, a sport very popular in Pakistan.
Abdul, a nineteen years old Afghani student said, “Today, I can feel equal to Thai students. I felt lucky to meet them, especially as they are in military school. It’s not everyday you meet Navy and Air Force personnel!”
After this special day of exchange, discussion and games, Thai students were surprised by the culture and diversity that refugee communities bring to Thailand. This project helped Thai students learn about cultures, traditions, food, and games they had not known about before. They gained appreciation for multiculturalism.
Beer, a sixteen years old Thai electrical student at MTTS said, “It was an opportunity to discuss the reasons why refugees are coming to Thailand. I heard about many of these countries before but not very much. I talked to many refugees and I would love to participate in more activities like this! ”
This day helped promote awareness within the Thai community about the situation of the asylum seekers and refugees in Bangkok and to better understand them. JRS Thailand will continue to focus on access to education as it supports education centers established in Bangkok as well as peer support activities. JRS Thailand will also continue to support education programs along the Thai/Myanmar border.