Zim family stranded at Thailand airport tried Spain through Ukraine; claim Mnangagwa govt fear


NEW details have emerged about the Zimbabwean family stranded at a Thailand airport for three months and refusing to return home fearing despite the ouster of former President Robert Mugabe’s regime.

According to the Thai immigration bureau, the four children under 11 and four adults arrived in Bangkok in May, taking advantage of the country’s visa-on-arrival policy.

Thailand Immigration bureau spokesman Pol Col Cherngron Rimphadee told the BBC the family initially arrived in Thailand as tourists. They attempted to fly out of Bangkok in October to the Spanish city of Barcelona via Kiev in Ukraine.

But they were denied boarding because they did not have visas to enter Spain.

However, they were also unable to re-enter Thailand as they had overstayed their initial tourist visas by five months and had to pay a hefty fine.

They later made arrangements with Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) to fly via Kiev to Dubai instead - and then on to a third country - bypassing European immigration.

However, according to a UIA spokesperson, the family cancelled their tickets for the final leg of their journey, leading them to be sent back from Dubai to Bangkok.

The family have refused to be sent back to Zimbabwe, saying they feared "persecution" after the November unrest which saw the removal of 37-year leader Robert Mugabe.

However, there is currently no open instability in Zimbabwe, so some in the country have cast doubts on the family's claim of persecution.

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. 

Thailand does not provide legal status to refugees and asylum seekers.

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.

The film is based on the real life story of Iranian Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who lived in Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris for 18 years when he found himself caught in diplomatic limbo. 

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."

There’s been an outpouring of sympathy and hospitality for the family. Airlines have apparently brought the family food, and one set of Thai travelers purchased a Christmas gift for the children.  

As for the family’s plans for the future? They are hoping to achieve refugee status with the United Nations and find a place to go so they can get out of the airport without having to return to Zimbabwe.

On the surface, the scenario this family is living is heartbreaking, but the airport community of employees and travelers who have offered support to them demonstrates how strong the power of humanity can be when people spread love instead of hate.   


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Denis Gwenzi
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