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The Bangkok Embassy and International Intrigue (or Lack Thereof) The Bangkok Embassy and International Intrigue (or Lack Thereof)
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The Bangkok Embassy and International Intrigue (or Lack Thereof)

by Brian Merchant

July 15, 2010


 

Embassies make problems go away. In both practical matters (a patient clerk helping a tourist with a lost passport) and popular imagination (a silver-tongued ambassador smoothing international relations), embassies seem like the designated fixer in foreign-affair snafus, which is why I thought that maybe, by contacting the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, I'd get some help getting Samy out of Burma. Of course, thanks to the turmoil in Thailand, getting in touch with the right people at the embassy would be easier said than done.

Thailand is just now recovering from the chaos that gripped it for months, wherein the violence got so dire that the United States had to evacuate much of its staff from the embassy in Bangkok—which probably explains why they weren’t returning my calls.

The embassy was one of the most important players in the refugee resettlement process, so I was delighted when, the other night, an officer for the Refugee and Migration Affairs agreed to speak with me. Unfortunately, the conversation was off the record.

It was an interesting talk, vastly different from those I’ve had with other entities and organizations. The officer spoke carefully, elusive about some things, candid about others. It was entirely understandable: It is the embassy’s M.O. to keep relations with its host country amicable, and negative press about Thai refugee affairs makes their job harder and impedes the progress of their working together.

I learned some things I didn’t already know, and since I can't quote the officer, let me just reiterate some facts that I have previously reported in this space:

The recent trouble in Thailand has disrupted an already disorganized and lowly prioritized (but slowly improving) refugee resettlement process. Thailand is strict in its dealings with refugee affairs, and doesn’t appreciate prodding from outside nations or the media. The Provincial Admissions Board, the body that registers individuals fleeing Burma as "displaced persons," absolutely must do so before any further action is taken. Any attempt to resettle a refugee to Canada (or elsewhere) could be thwarted by the PAB.

Like I said, nothing new. But I'd be lying if I said I hadn't hoped that the embassy might turn out to function as they do in spy films. Instead, it turned out that those high-powered diplomats seem just as frustrated with the limitations of their jobs as I do with mine. But relinquishing the juvenile idea that the embassy could somehow make things happen was disappointing nonetheless, as though yet another of Samy’s few remaining possibilities has been snuffed out on the spot.

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