The lack of legal status is the primary challenge for more than five thousand refugees and asylum seekers seeking refuge in Bangkok. A refugee is not a legal category under Thai laws as Thailand is a non-signatory state of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Although UNHCR may have screened and granted refugee status, the Thai government has never recognized such legal recognition. Thailand is concerned that giving a refugee status will become a pull factor attracting new waves of the forcibly displaced.
The illegality of their existence also leads them to have no work rights and limited access to social services. Despite encountering multiple challenges including the fear of arrest, detention, and deportation, refugees and asylum seekers continue to be present in Thailand—for both transit and long-term asylum.
Based on empirical data from ethnographic fieldwork in Bangkok, this talk explores how the city strengthens refugee resilience leading these populations to their survival. Professor Jittiang argues for the city’s three forms of power, including material, discursive, and environmental power, which have bolstered the resilience of refugees by providing them with three essential capacities for city navigation. First, material capacity refers to the capability to afford tangible material benefits for themselves and their family through employment and access to services and support. The second is discursive capacity, which is the capacity to discursively construct a different identity other than being a refugee and to reclassify oneself to fit different social contexts for survival purposes. Lastly, environmental capacity is the capacity to leverage the crowdedness and the anonymity of people in the city to live in shadow providing an additional shield for their survival.
Bhanubhatra “Kaan” Jittiang is a development sociologist and a lecturer in the Department of International Relations at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand. He is also the current Director of the M.A. and Ph.D. Program in International Development Studies (MAIDS-GRID).
His research and teaching interests encompass forced migration and refugees, humanitarianism, atrocities prevention, international development, international conflicts, securitization, sociology of race and ethnicity, and African studies.
Professor Jittiang current project explores the health impacts of COVID-19 on urban refugees in Thailand. He also studies humanitarianism in Thailand’s foreign policy. His studies receive support from Chulalongkorn University, Asylum Access Thailand (AAT), and APR2P (University of Queensland, Australia).