Abstract: Exploring a Collaborative Response to Urban Refugees in Thailand: The Case of Somalis and Pakistanis in Bangkok (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

263P Exploring a Collaborative Response to Urban Refugees in Thailand: The Case of Somalis and Pakistanis in Bangkok

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Aster Tecle, PhD, assistant professor, University of Utah, salt lake city, UT
Rosey Hunter, PhD, associate professor, University of Utah, salt lake city, UT
Kara Byrne, PhD, research assistant professor, University of Utah, salt lake city, UT
The number of unprotected urban refugees in Bangkok has grown over the past few years with new migrations of women, young and families from Somalia and Pakistan. Thailand is unique because the nation has not signed onto the 1951 UN Convention and does not have a legal framework in place to support refugees. The new migration phenomenon is challenging current resources and understanding of urban refuge seeking women and minors, putting into question the relevance of existing service delivery models. Provision of emergency services developed for short-term needs of Thailand’s urban refugees is ill suited for the needs of vulnerable populations. Jesuit Refugee Services in Thailand collaborated with faculty from a U. S. based College of Social Work to assess and improve current service delivery models to address challenges and gaps. Partners identified two research goals: 1. Exploring the experiences of Somali and Pakistani urban refugee women in Bangkok; and 2. Strengthening partners’ capacity by providing training on case management and community practice to ensure sustainable solutions.


The research team consisted of local NGOs’ staff, and Social Work faculty and students. Based on CBPR framework, the team conducted 42 interviews with individuals (N=63) representing refugees from Somalia and Pakistan (Females=29, M=11), representatives of 4 NGOs (n=17) and 3 community-based organizations (n=6) serving refugees. Interview guides focused on aspirations and experiences of unaccompanied women and minors; and comparing strengths and gaps in services in meeting the needs of urban refugees.


The journeys to Thailand for Somali and Pakistani women included smuggling from by land, sea and air. Terror women and children faced during migration are intense. Increased risk of (un)documented female minors’ abuse because of detention and threats from police in Bangkok have kept them trapped in poor neighborhoods. UNHCR’s card does not protect them from immigration officers’ random detentions.

Study participants shared that services are not enough in terms of quality, longevity and types of services, and lack of information regarding access, and lack of understanding how systems work in Bangkok as barriers.

Conclusion and Implications

Refugees are stuck in poor neighborhoods of Bangkok. Lack of formal response and infrastructure, and Thailand not having a formal asylum framework impacts receiving official refugee status resulting into a long process with no assurances. Without effective protection measures, refugees are more susceptible and experience abuse from employers (Migration Policy Institute, 2015), those in illegal employment in particular. Bangkok’s refugee community remains vulnerable to arrest and myriad forms of exploitation and abuse.

Implications to service delivery and social work practice with urban refugee women include: recognizing violation of refugee women’s rights, a growing urge to collaborate and work towards a collective response to the influx of urban refugees, and an increased understanding of community networks to better serve them. There is a need for all partners to shift from emergency service provision model to gender sensitive sustainable and long-term solutions. There is also a prerequisite for a political commitment and will of agencies to ensure that a national framework is in place.