The Good Lie: Lies for Oneself through the Eyes of Refugees

12 July 2016

By : Yutthana Klaisuban
Photography : Yutthana Klaisuban
Original Story from Way Magazine 


The conversation topic ‘Refugees’ Life in the City’ started after the end credit of the movie ‘The Good Lie’ ended. The discussion was held the Coalition for the Rights of Refugees and Stateless Persons (CRSP), Asylum Access Thailand and Amnesty International Thailand along with Thapanee Aiadsrichai, the Media for Human Rights Award winning correspondent, as the moderator. The discussion was joined by two speakers; the first speaker is Adisorn Kerdmongkol from Asylum Access Thailand who is a specialist in the rights of migrant workers of Migrant Working Group, and the second speaker is Suthep Kritsanavarin, a documentary photographer and a writer about the Rohingya


If we don’t run away, we die.


“I believe that no one wants to be a refugee because no one wants to leave their home. But if they don’t, the die.”


A specialist in the rights of migrant workers like Adisorn Kerdmongkul talked about the feelings of the refugees whom he met. He talked to refugees in Thailand, whether Hmong or Karen. Their journey started from Vietnam through Laos which took about two months, and there are many stories to be told during their journey. One thing that the refugees said the same is that no one wants to live their home in the midst of obstacles. This makes Adisorn realize that no one wants to leave their homeland. When they cannot stand living, they have to leave. Otherwise, the death is neck to neck. 


The Good Lie begins the story in Sudan, a country ranked the top of the list in terms of danger and war. Four children escaped from their village where their family members and others were shot death by outsiders in order to snatch food and valuables. They travel by foot to survive natural disasters and struggled to live. 


In the eyes of a photographer like Suthep, the movie shows that one thing that everybody has in common is instinct to survive. There is one scene in the movie where the four children had to drink their own urine because there was no water to drink during their journey to the refugee camp in Kenya. They said that they wanted to continue living.


“I think there are two important things about being a refugee which are chance and hope thay they will survive,” Adisorn added. 


Immigration from the Past


According to the index of Amnesty international which asked people around the world for their consent to accept immigrants, it reveals that Thailand is a country with a very low percentage of people who would accept immigrants into the country, which is only about 29 percent. The big problem is that we see that they are different from us.


About this topic, Thapanee asked questions about the attitude and understanding of the problem of refugees living temporarily in the country including people who have to work how we should change the attitude of Thai people.


Suthep gave an example of a case of the Kuomintang Chinese who moved to Chiang Rai. Currently, the area has become a tourist attraction, and some famous people are descendants of the immigrants who make contribution to society. Part of the Thai society do not accept that the refugee problem is not about helping one another, but it is about giving an opportunity for those who are in trouble and giving hope so that they can begin their new life and create good things to the society.


“Thailand has faced problems about its neighbors for a long time, so Thai people have bad attitudes toward refugees,” Adisorn gave his opinion on the refugees, despite the fact that Thai people encountered the refugee problems 40 years ago from the Indo-China War up to the problem of Myanmar minorities who have become Rohingya at present.


“In some cases, I get it because we have faced problems about our neighbors for a long time, so we have bad attitudes, even the government. But I want people to understand that sometimes when you become refugees, no one wants to leave their home.”


Refugees might not be a result of war


Thapanee opened this issue with a question about the fact that refugees are not a result of war, but in the future there will be refugees as a result of natural disaster and religion such as the Rohingya and they might change from shelter providers to refugees.


“In the next decade, refugees will become a bigger problem, which is not only a result of war but also a result of resource and religious problems.”


Suthep talked about the changing climate which might be inevitably relevant to the tendency of refugees. For him, such problem might result in scrambling for assets, resources and areas as well as protecting the same from others. This is another significant issue because Thai people are afraid that outsiders will scramble for their resources and, therefore, try to exclude refugees.



Real Refugees


“At present, refugees do not only live in the camp.”


Adisorn stated before classifying the types of refugees in Thailand as two major groups: the first group is the refugees who take shelter in a refugee camp and there are around 100,000 refugees at present and the second group is urban refugees who often have trouble requesting the refugee status with UNHCR which has its network in Thailand. However, since Thailand has not been endorsed as the refugee party, there is no clear policy on accepting refugees, which affects the process of requesting for the refugee status because it takes at least 5-6 years. If denied, applicants will have to wait another 2-3 years to reapply, which will take 8-10 years in total. Therefore, the refugees have to live in fear and accept their status as illegal immigrants.


Adisorn further explained that not holding the status makes life difficult, but Thailand has some interesting policies such as granting the rights for people who are not Thai to buy the rights to treatment and welfare benefits at 2,000 Baht per year. However, there is still a problem with certain public hospitals which do not agree to sell such welfare benefits to refugees just because they are not the target group.


“The question is in case a person does not have such welfare benefits, will the person have to wait until the condition gets worse? When the person is seriously ill, the medical expenses will rise accordingly. Therefore, without a clear policy, the refugees will not have a good quality of life in a long term.”


Understanding to Continue Living


If you have watched this movie, you will see that there is another important character who is a woman named Carry. She was in charge of seeking jobs for the four refugees. Carry thought her duty would end when she could find a job for them. Soon when she came to realization and started to sympathize with them, she found out that in fact what made them survive was not only coming to the U.S but also understanding, sympathizing with and helping one another.


However, in Thai society with the negative opinions and attitudes toward refugees and the government which does not implement a clear police to support the refugees, people need to create understanding first.


“I am looking at two issues,” said Adisorn before further explaining that one issue is the Thai society in overall, and the second is the Thai government. “Everyone has stands a chance of becoming refugees. If you were villagers and do not agree with the government, chances are that you may be threatened by the government.”


In this regard, Thailand has three steps to solve the refugee problems. The first step is to repatriate refugees when the situation is peaceful, which Thailand has done it to the Chinese refugees. The second step is to send refugees to the third country. This chance starts to fade because there are increasing Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees. The final step is to accept them as part of Thailand, which we call them minorities. According to the aforementioned, what Thailand lacks is clear political agenda.


“We do not realize that we have potential enough to accept them. I want to tell the people in the country to realize that they are the owner of the power and I want them to show it to the government in terms of assistance.”


Suthep emphasized what happened to the Rohingya that to be kind to one another is appropriate. The most important thing is to create understanding before raising questions or starting to loathe because they are black Muslims and leaving an interesting question.


“Last year, when there was an earthquake in Nepal, it was ridiculous that Thai people conjointly send overwhelming encouragement and set up a huge donation center. But when it comes to the Rohingya, why do Thai people express opinions in the opposite way? I think that if the Nepalese sail to Thailand, I will still question if Thai people will welcome them.”