Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi international airport. File picture: Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

Bangkok - A Zimbabwean family of eight lived in a Bangkok airport for three months before departing to seek asylum in the Philippines earlier in the week, immigration police told dpa on Wednesday.

"There's a place for them in the Philippines. They're in the hands of UNHCR (UN refugee agency) now," said Cherngron Rimpadee, an immigration police spokesman. The family flew to the Philippines on Monday.

The four adults and four children first came to public attention when a shop owner at Suvarnabhumi International Airport posted a photo on Facebook in December of himself with a Zimbawean girl and a Christmas present he gave her.

The post described how strong the children were despite their ordeal and how excited they were over his Christmas present.

The family came to Thailand on a three-month tourist visa in February 2017. Thai authorities learned that they had overstayed when they tried to travel to Spain without a visa in October, Cherngron said.

"We tried to deport them back to Zimbabwe. But they refused, saying it was not safe for them to return," he said.

"Then, UNHCR asked us to stall the deportation process until a place for their asylum can be secured," he added.

Unlike the Philippines, Thailand has not ratified the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention and does not recognize the status of refugees and asylum seekers, who are treated as illegal immigrants.

In November, Zimbabwe descended into political turmoil when the military seized power, leading to the resignation of 93-year-old Robert Mugabe as president after nearly a four-decade rule.