Family ‘stranded’ at airport for three months

A family from Zimbabwe with four young children has been living in Bangkok’s international airport for almost three months.

The four adults and four children under 11 arrived in Thailand in May but are refusing to return to Zimbabwe for fear of persecution.

Immigration bureau spokesman Pol Col Cherngron Rimphadee told the BBC the family had travelled to the country as tourists and had attempted to fly out of Bangkok in October to Barcelona via Kiev in Ukraine.

However, they were prevented from boarding their flight because they didn’t have Spanish visas but they couldn’t re-enter Thailand because they had overstayed their tourist visas by five months and had to pay a large fine.

They tried to fly with Ukraine International Airlines via Kiev to Dubai and on to a third country, but according UIA the family cancelled the final leg of their flight so were sent back from Dubai to Bangkok.

The family has refused to be sent back to Zimbabwe, saying it feared persecution after leader Robert Mugabe was removed in November, but the country appears to be stable at the moment.

Col Rimphahdee confirmed the family had applied to the UN for asylum, but for now were living in Suvarnabhumi airport and being looked after and fed by airport staff.

He told the BBC’s Thai Service that the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, had ‘requested’ that the family remain in Thailand as it was ‘working on a process… to send them to a third country’.

A UNCHR spokesperson said they were ‘currently exploring solutions’ but could not provide any further details or confirmation.

The family’s situation has been likened to the film The Terminal, in which actor Tom Hanks plays a man who is trapped in a New York airport, but Col Rimphadee said: “Please try not to compare this to the movie. Their situation is not as dramatic… actually they have plenty of options.”

“They could travel to other countries that are willing to take them… We also offered to relocate them to our holding centre where there is childcare. But they refused. They are happy to stay here.”