Police Col. Cherngron Rimpadee, a spokesman for Thailand’s Immigration Bureau, said the family first tried to leave Thailand on Oct. 23.
But they did not have a valid visa for Spain, their destination, so were not allowed to board their flight. And because they had overstayed their Thai visas by five months, they were fined and banned from re-entering the country for a year, meaning they could not leave Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport.
In November, they succeeded in getting on a flight to Kiev, Ukraine, in the hope of continuing on to a third country. But on arrival in Kiev, they were denied permission to travel on. After they refused to fly to Zimbabwe, they were sent back to Bangkok.
Now, unable to enter Thailand, or to board a flight bound for a country of their own choosing, they spend their time near the G departure gates, waiting for permission to leave.
“We are stuck here,” said one of the Zimbabwean men, who did not want to be identified and would not comment further or offer details about their situation, seemingly ill at ease with the growing attention.
Their situation is somewhat reminiscent of the 2004 film, “The Terminal,” in which a traveler is left in limbo at Kennedy International Airport when his fictitious country’s government collapses and he is left without valid papers.
Their situation came to light on Tuesday when an airport worker posted a photo of himself with one of the children on Facebook and mentioned that the family was living at the airport.
He also wrote that airport staff had been bringing the family food and gifts over the holidays as they remained stranded in the airport.
Colonel Cherngron said it was not unusual for passengers to get stuck at an airport for a period of time. “This happens at every airport in the world, not only in Thailand,” he said.
Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said she was aware of the case but could not provide details because of confidentiality requirements.
“We are currently exploring potential solutions,” she said.
Colonel Cherngron said that sending the family to a detention center was still an option.
“If we feel that the U.N. process is taking too long, we might consider moving them to our center, where we have a complete child-care center,” he said. “We don’t have any deadline because we know this is a complicated issue that involves different countries who also have laws and procedures.”