In Thailand, actor Sakda Kaewbuadee, guardian angel of asylum seekers

LETTER FROM BANGKOK

It’s a hot Sunday in June, in an alley in the northern suburbs of Bangkok. Some 300 Hmong from Vietnam, an ethnic group persecuted in this communist country from which they fled, live in complete discretion.

Around the pastor and his son who brought them together that day, several of them recount the repression of the demonstrations in the province of Dien Bien in 2011: they asked to practice the Christian religion freely, to recover their despoiled lands and an identity card to pursue higher education. The Vietnamese army intervened, shots rang out, there were deaths and long stays in prison.

Bao, in his forties, was detained for two years and tortured for leading a group of fifteen protesting families; he fled to Thailand six years ago. Thi Mua, she takes photos of two corpses out of a pocket: her first son was killed at the age of 13 in 2014 with three of his friends; the second, at 19, with a bullet in the head, to, he is told, prevent him from fleeing and seeking justice for his brother; she left for Thailand in 2020.

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Sakda Kaewbuadee listens to them. At 43, this auteur film actor is the male face of the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the Thai director who won the Palme d’or in 2010 at Cannes with Uncle Boonmee, the one who remembers his past lives. He inquires about the pastor’s family seeking asylum in Canada.

Since 2017, the actor has been helping candidates for political asylum to extricate themselves from the limbo of oblivion: Thailand has never signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951 and does not recognize political asylum seekers . Does it only authorize the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to grant those who declare themselves as such a “persons under his jurisdiction”but which offers no legal protection.

Nearly a thousand asylum seekers in another country are in immigration detention centers, exposed to all kinds of racketeering. About 5,000 people live, like the Hmong, without a residence permit, doing odd, undeclared jobs and under the threat of surprise arrest.

Call for donations and small gestures

Five years ago, Sakda Kaewbuadee discovered by chance the inextricable difficulties faced by a Congolese imprisoned in Bangkok after fleeing his country. He has since rescued five families from no man’s land from political asylum in Thailand. Hmong people have been welcomed in Nantes in particular. In June, a Pakistani Christian family was granted asylum in Canada. Their plane tickets are paid for by UNHCR – they will have to reimburse them. But not the fine for leaving Thai territory for illegal stay, or 100,000 baht (2,700 euros). Sakda Kaewbuadee then launched an online appeal for donations on Facebook on June 17 – and raised the sum in an hour, thanks to 250 people.

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In Thailand, actor Sakda Kaewbuadee, guardian angel of asylum seekers