A Zimbabwean family has spent almost three months living in Bangkok’s main airport, Thai immigration officials confirmed Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the Thai Immigration Bureau told local paper the Bangkok Post that the family of four adults and four children were refusing to travel back to Zimbabwe because of political concerns.
They had been flown back to Bangkok after attempting to travel to Spain via Ukraine because they did not have appropriate visas, he said, and could not re-enter Thailand because they had overstayed their initial tourist visas by five months. The family have reportedly made several unsuccessful attempts to leave Thailand.
The airport jam garnered local attention after a man who said he worked at Suvarnabhumi airport posted a picture of himself on Facebook giving one of the children a Christmas present, the BBC reports.
The girl and her family were living at the airport, Kanaruj Artt Pornsopit wrote in a since-deleted post, “because of the unsettled situation” in Zimbabwe.
Facebook users likened their plight to the Hollywood film The Terminal, where Tom Hanks’ character is stuck at a New York airport.
Airport staff have reportedly been providing them with meals and assistance.
The family said they did not want to return to Zimbabwe due to political tension. Former President Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for 37 years, was removed from office by the military last month, a promising sign of a transition away from authoritarian rule. His successor, former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, has called for all exiled Zimbabweans to return home. But critics are are skeptical Mnangagwa, a longtime Mugabe ally who has been accused of past atrocities, will bring about real reform.
Thai immigration bureau spokesperson Pol. Col. Cherngron Rimphadee told the BBC that the family have applied to the U.N refugee agency (UNHCR) for asylum.
“Their situation is not as dramatic … actually they have plenty of options,” Col. Rimphadee said.