GOOD

One Night in Bangkok, 500 Years in a Refugee Camp

Samy is in Bangkok—over 100 miles away from the one place he’s ever legally allowed to be. After Google Latitudes abruptly alerted me...




Samy is in Bangkok—over 100 miles away from the one place he’s ever legally allowed to be. After Google Latitudes abruptly alerted me to the situation, we decided he should try to make the most of his clandestine stay in the Thai capital, and find out if the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees field office there could help him out. The UNHCR in Bangkok was near the top of my ever-expanding list of agencies and organizations to call anyways, so I tracked down the number and gave them a call.

If ever I’ve lived a comedy of errors, this was it.

Calling them, of course, presented me with a near-impenetrable language barrier: I would introduce myself, there would be silence. I’d manage to get across my name, "New York" and sometimes "journalist," and I’d be transferred. I’d be halfway through a sentence, and I’d be transferred again. With a surge of relief, I’d realize I’d finally found someone who spoke decent English—then I’d be transferred again.

Over the course of a half an hour, I called the office 10 times. I felt terrible for the poor receptionist who, by the fifth call, was forwarding me at my first Anglo-fied syllable. And then, finally, I reached Kitty. Kitty McKinsey is the spokesperson for the UNCHR in Bangkok, and though she carried a tone like someone giving a tourist directions for the third time in a row, she was extremely helpful. She outlined the process that ideally changes Samy's status from a stateless, placeless person to a stateless person with "displaced" status—the first step in getting him home.

It goes something like this:

After Samy crosses the border as an asylum seeker in Thailand, he must do a “prescreening” with the Provincial Admission Board. That’s the Thai authority that determines whether or not an asylum seeker is eligible for refugee status in the first place. Excuse me—"displaced person’" status. See,Thailand is one of the few nations that hasn’t signed the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees that legally defines who can be classified as a refugee and what his or her rights are according to internationally agreed-upon guidelines. Essentially, Thailand’s policy is to treat refugees as illegal immigrants, McKinsey tells me, but they make an exception for Burmese refugees. Which is why they set up the PAB.

After Samy's prescreening at the PAB—a process that was frozen for years, and is only recently back up and running, according to Kitty—he can then be approved for registration with UNCHR. And then he’s eligible for resettlement to the United States.

So, we need to make sure Samy is signed up with PAB. And therein lies the problem. This is completely up to the Thai authorities, which are responsible for deeming someone who’s fled Burma a "displaced person." No international body, not the U.N., and not the United States government can make this determination. And it’s the first step. So it’s up to the Thai government, which begrudgingly accepts asylum seekers, to put Samy on the list. And if they don’t want to, they don’t have to. Nobody can force their hand.

I ask if there’s anything I can do to speed the process. Kitty McKinsey tells me not to bother, and that in fact, it’d be better not to. “If you push hard, they may smile at you, then put his name at the bottom of a list and he won’t get out for five hundred years,” she says. She also told me to tell Samy to get back to the camps ASAP, or the outcome could be similar—or worse.

This is the first time where something really sunk in: I might not be able to do anything at all. He could simply be left at the whims of capricious Thai authorities. It’s the first time that I feel that this problem may indeed not be solved with sheer optimism, a willingness to make phone calls late at night, Samy’s resourcefulness, and some savvy allies. All it takes is a bit of overeagerness, good intentions, and a stubborn Thai official who makes a few notes in the margins, and Samy’s going nowhere.

In other words, the seriousness of this operation just got shaded in.
Articles
via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

Keep Reading Show less

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





Culture
Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet