A friend currently studying to complete her Ph.D research recently quizzed me about access to education among asylum seeking refugees in Bangkok. Her questions made me realize, I’d written little about what is and isn’t available to families who flee here hoping to get UN status and eventually resettlement to a third country.

Applying for refugee status from Thailand is a long process which can take two to three years or longer. In addition to not knowing how scathingly xenophobic laws and people in Thailand can be, those who flee here are also most likely unaware of the impact of their need to flee on their children’s access to education.

To explain, I’d like to share examples from a few of the families we’ve just begun helping and from others we have helped for two years or more. To simplify we’ll signify the families as A, B, & C.

Family A – This family has lived in Thailand for about 9 months. They fled to Thailand after their farm in the mountains was bulldozed and villages burned. They have all the proper paperwork which says their case is currently under review by the UNHCR, however this does not alone keep them from being harassed or indefinitely detained by the police.

The paperwork does not provide any basic provisions for living expenses and provides no substantial educational benefits for their four school age children.


Family B – This family fled their home country for the same reasons as Family A and have hidden in Bangkok for nearly three years while seeking unsuccessfully the help of UN agencies. After the family of 7 quickly burned through money they brought with them, the father found work as a day laborer where he could earn up to $6 a day. Three months after working odd jobs on farms and construction sites, the father was arrested and detained for working illegally and is currently STILL being detained two years later.

Three of the four school age children in the family were recently allowed study in a Thai government school after passing tests which evaluate their Thai language ability. The fourth and oldest of the school age children was turned away even after being eligible because she was too old to be put in the 1st grade with her siblings.

Family C – Here’s a family which has been in Thailand for three years. Their children haven’t been to school on a regular basis since they left their home country. Instead their children attend rudimentary classes for subjects like English which they already speak at home, and Thai which will not prepare them for life in a third country or even offer any preparation if they are returned to their home country.

Because their refugee application has been rejected, they have begun appealing the UNHCR’s decision but have been given no estimate on how long the appeal process takes. Meanwhile, as their status hangs in the balance, so does their children’s access to even the most rudimentary of classes which they can rightfully attend only once a week and are not funded by the UN.

If this paints a dismal picture of what will become of these children’s ‘lost years’ then it’s accurate. While there are exceptions where refugee children have been excepted on scholarships to international schools, these are rare instances where schools have taken interest in children based on test scores, fine tuned to reveal a ‘likeliness to succeed’ —which is more indicative of their previous exposure to education than their need or aptitude to learn.

What will become of these children’s lost days, months, and years spent outside of classrooms?

How many books, teachers, and precious minds will be held hostage by politics, legalities, and prejudice?

How long do we have before lost class time creates lost children?