In Thailand, refugees have few rights under domestic law, as the story of Aisha and her family illustrates. Legal assistance, although sometimes helping refugees to navigate the few avenues available to them, is of limited utility for many simply because they have no rights that can be effectively asserted in existing forums. There is no effective enforcement body for an individual refugee’s rights under international law, and Thailand’s courts cannot enforce domestic rights that do not exist. In a context where refugees hold little power in relation to host government authorities, Asylum Access saw that shifting this balance of power was important, and that providing refugee communities with legal and practical information plus a facilitated space for community strategizing and decision making could help make this shift.
Asylum Access has adapted its approach, therefore, to include not only traditional legal assistance but also community legal empowerment sessions that help refugees understand their options, identify strategies for staying safe whenever possible, prevent or navigate situations in which their rights are violated, and organize collectively to advocate for their needs. The community legal empowerment activities in Thailand now include Know Your Options trainings, where refugees learn and share strategies for minimizing their experience of human rights violations while navigat?ing life in Thailand. Asylum Access also uses regular community organizing sessions, where refugee groups develop Democratic Collective Action Plans, a shared plan for communal self-advocacy on issues they identify as important.
The ability to choose formal local integration is a long way off for refugees in Thailand. Practically, however, many refugees are stuck there; so in one sense, they already are integrating. Asylum Access’s community legal empowerment activities respond to this reality, supporting refugees to integrate with as much autonomy and power as possible in a rights- constrained environment.