A year later and it’s time again!

A few days ago it was one year since we started school in Rangsit Thailand. It’s crazy how fast time flies! And I still haven’t sorted through all photos I took during last year, so I couldn’t easily find any pictures from the first few days in Rangsit, but here are some random photos anyway.

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Now, with it being three months since I left Thailand and the university in Rangsit it’s time to start studying again. This time in Sweden though, and only as a part time student (while working full time). I just started the Master of Public Health Science Program at a university close to where I live. However, I will be a distance/online student. The entire program is a program without any physical classes or meet ups. Which is fantastic since it’s four years of studying and I don’t know how long I’ll be staying here. But now I can study from anywhere in the world.

Mae La Refugee Camp

Today I’ve had a very interesting day. I was picked up by the head of the project from Handicap International and an occupational therapist at 8.20 and then we set off toward the refugee camp. It took about an hour to get there.

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The refugee camp was quite similar to what I had expected, but that’s just because I’ve been reading quite a lot about refugees situation in Thailand right now. Their “houses” are made out of bamboo sticks and leafs, that’s the only material they’re allowed to use since the camp is supported to be temporarily. The camps has been there for 30 years by now…

Mae La is the biggest refugee camp on the border between Thailand and Myanmar, it has about 50 000 registered refugees, but since refugees arriving after 2005 aren’t registered (and there fore not eligible to apply for resettlement) there is difficult to know how many people are staying in the camp. Found out there are 12-14 NGOs working there at the moment though.

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Resources available in the camp are scarce, and unfortunately it’s getting worse. Many NGOs are “forced” to leave the area because of lack of funding. Most international funding now go to NGOs going into Myanmar to work there. Which in theory is good, and necessary. But those resources are going to reach the already quite well off in Myanmar, and the poorest people in the provinces on the border to Thailand (Karen provinces) are just like today, not going to get anything for quite a while. People are, still today, fleeing Myanmar. Karen and other minorities in the north/east and Rohingya muslims in the south.

It’s a very difficult situation which effects the already vulnerable people the most. During my visit to the camp I did get lots of good material to my study though, which I have to be happy with.

Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok

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In Thailand they have several jail-like institutions called Immigration Detention Centers. It’s a place where people who have overstayed their visas are detained. Among the immigrants detained are many UN recognized refugees and asylum seekers, as well as people who have gotten denied asylum or people coming to Thailand to work but don’t have the proper permits.

I visited the IDC in Bangkok yesterday. It was quite a chocking and haunting experience. I’ve never seen a place like that before… I barely know how to describe it.

After applying to visit a detainee we were all let in at 10.30 and had to go through a procedure of leaving our belongings and passports and go through metall detectors. The food we had brought for the detainees we were visiting had to be screened separately. In the “meeting room” which was more of an open area with a few fans, the visitors and the detainees were separated by two high fences about a meter apart. We had to shout to try to talk to them. It was crazy. And impossible to hear what they were saying.

At 11.30 we had all been asked to leave and the big blue doors had closed.

The oldest detainee I saw was well above 60 years old, the youngest was 11 months. Families (often whole families get arrested) only get to see each other once a month on family day or during visiting hour if they all get visitors the same day…

Keeping children locked up like that is against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Can’t write much more about it now. Let’s just say I was surprised by how much the visit effected me. It’s good to know there are NGOs working on improving conditions in the IDC and help the refugees.

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Getting medicin in different countries

Not much teach you as much about the medical system in a country than actually testing it out. Well, studying the healthcare delivery system at advanced level does, but for you not global health students, testing them out is quite the experience.

Sweden
In Sweden healthcare and medication are both controlled and restricted. You call the health center you’re registered at, make an appointment with a doctor, go there to take some tests and asks lots of questions. Then you, maybe, get prescribed medication that you can pick up at a pharmacy. If you don’t get better you’re asked to make a new appointment. At the pharmacy you pick up the exact medicine your doctor prescribed.

Iceland
Iceland is quite similar to Sweden actually. When I needed more birth control pills I just made an appointment, got a time to the doctor (not the midwife as in Sweden) and after a quick look at my blood pressure I got the pills prescribed and could pick them up at the pharmacy.

Australia
When I needed new birth control pills in Australia I just went to a health center, asked to see a doctor, waited for maybe half an hour and then was showed into a doctors room. There I just showed the package of my usual sort and he prescribed them for me. I went to the pharmacy and picked them up.

Thailand
Here in Thailand you just go to the pharmacy and pick out what medicine you want. I saw that they had my old kind of birth control pills just behind the counter. Here you don’t need a doctor to prescribe medicine, not even at the fancy pharmacy on campus. And you pay so little for the medicine as well. It’s crazy.

So there’s a few different ways to handle healthcare. I’ll let you think about the difference in multi resistant bacteria and drug problems in the countries mentioned.

Refugee, asylum-seeker or immigrant?

Do you know the difference between an internally displaced person, a stateless person, a refugee, an asylum seeker, an illegal and legal immigrant?

If you don’t, do you still have opinions on the number of refugees in your country, or how about the number of immigrants? Maybe you call them all foreigners?

I believe in education, so if you want to know the difference, let me help you.

According to the 1951 refugee convention a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” (UNHCR, 2013 b). Refugee is a status that a person is given after a going through a national asylum system.

An internally displaced person is someone who have been forced to flee, either because of the same reason as a refugee, or because of natural disasters, but they haven’t crossed the border of their home countries (UNHCR, 2013 e).

Asylum-seeker is a person who hasn’t yet been given a decision on whether their experience and reasons for leaving their home country are enough to give them refugee status (UNHCR, 2013 c). This procedure can sometimes take time and asylum-seekers within the European Union can’t decide which country should go through their application (even though countries within the union has their own measurement and do make different decision for similar applications). An asylum-seeker in an European Union member country can be forced to move to another country if their application is deemed to be processed somewhere else. Even if an asylum-seeker wants to appeal a decision, they have to leave the country in which they are staying (Migrationsverket, 2012).

When many people are fleeing a country, it’s impossible to make individual decisions. Groups of people can then be decided to be prima facie refugees. An example is people now leaving Syria (UNHCR, 2013 c).

If an asylum-seeker doesn’t get a refugee status, he or she becomes an undocumented immigrant if s/he chooses to stay in the country and doesn’t have a proper visa to do so.

A migrant is someone moving to another country. It can be a country in which you are a citizen or a country you aren’t. If you have a citizenship, a valid visa or you’re moving within the European Union, you’re a legal immigrant in the country you move to. If you do not have the necessary “papers” and you’re not allowed to stay in the country you’re in, you’re considered an undocumented immigrant.

A stateless person can also be any of the previous mentioned group of people, but doesn’t have to. Being stateless is what it sounds like; a person who doesn’t have a citizenship in any country. This can happen because of discrimination against minorities, after countries become independent or after war and occupancy. Being stateless comes with big risks of discrimination, and the risk of not having one’s human rights met is also very large (UNHCR, 2013 d).

I think it’s very important that we know the definitions and the difference between these groups of people. How can we otherwise voice our opinion concerning political questions like immigration policies?

Reference
All facts and definitions come from UNHCR’s website. It’s brilliant and filled with information regarding refugees. If you want to learn more, that’s definitively the place to start.

UNHCR. (2013 b). Refugees. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html 2013-10-23. 11.20 am.

UNHCR. (2013 c). Asylum-seeker. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c137.html 2013-10-22. 18.30

UNHCR. (2013 d). Stateless Persons. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c155.html 2013-10-24. 12.30.

UNHCR. (2013 e). Internally displaced people. Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c146.html 2013-10-24. 13.00.

Field trip to refugee school in Thailand

A couple of weeks ago, before my vacation from reality, I went on another field trip. I just realized I forgot to tell you about it. A while ago I found an organization that seemed interesting for my field study next semester, so my teacher invited them to our school to present their organization. The organization is Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation. They’re doing an incredible job when it comes to refugee questions.

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Thailand is a bit special when it comes to refugees. They have several refugee camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border, but they haven’t signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and still today they don’t have any domestic laws concerning refugees. Thailand doesn’t even recognize the refugee status, so all refugees outside the refugee camps are considered illegal immigrants.

Thai Committee for Refugees Foundation (TCR) works on several different levels to help refugees in Thailand. They have a border education programme, an urban refugee program, an advocacy programme and a statelessness programme. They’re also working on the first Thai refugee bill. It was their urban refugee programme we got to see (a small part of it) a couple of weeks ago. We got to visit a school class with refugee children. These children live hidden in Bangkok, with their families. They had been in Thailand between a week and a year. They’re all waiting on being resettled. It was a class that spoke a little English, so it was very fun to speak with the children and observe their class.

Since these children live hidden, the “school” has to be hidden as well. They had just changed location because a former neighbour had threatened to call the police. It was sad to hear that the older children (10-12 years old) were always reminding the younger (youngest was 5 years old) to be quiet so the police wouldn’t find them.

The location, the classrooms (they had two) was so small. They were smaller than the bedroom I had growing up, and they were 10-12 children in each room, plus a teacher. It felt very crowded when we were there as well. They had a chair each, basic school supply like pens and paper and a whiteboard. I thought the teachers were doing an amazing job in there! The children were so bright, their spelling in english (when they practiced the weather) was near perfect and when they practiced telling time they were all also very good.

Me and my two classmates that were visiting, brought some notebooks, coloring pens, pencils and erasers. I wish there were something more I could do, but at the same time I know that these are the “lucky” children. They get to go to school, to get out. We were told that since a family only got a little money (I think from the UN), like 2000 baht, they had to be maybe five families in a small one room apartment.

It’s impossible to even imagine what they have been through. First having to flee from their home. Come to a country where they have to live hidden… The children seemed so happy, they were smiling, singing, were very shy and laughed a lot. Children are incredible, their ability to adapt. I just wonder how their parents are. Imagine the stress to keep your family safe in this situation? I was very pleasantly surprised that they had also started an english class for the parents.

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TCR has a lot of information on their website, so make sure you check it out. If you would like to donate to help them in their work, you can do so here. TRC work completely from donations, they don’t get any support from the Thai governmnet.