Tzu Chi Continues Medical Support for Urban Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Bangkok

Report
from Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation
Published on 17 May 2017

Bangkok is home to roughly 8,000 urban refugees and asylum seekers, primarily originating from Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. As a non-signatory of the 1951 Geneva convention and the 1967 protocol, Thailand, with strict anti-immigration laws and government checkpoints, has become a harsh environment for the refugees and asylum-seekers, as they relentlessly face fears of detention and have no means of supporting themselves through employment. The Bangkok Refugee Center, serving as the implementing arm of UNHCR, has been an essential resource center for the refugee and asylum seeker population in Bangkok, offering education, social work, and medical services. However, due to the recent influx of refugees and asylum seekers, as well as the lack of resources, the BRC discontinued its medical services and became a referral center for those seeking medical assistance.

Following the conversion, the BRC has been referring both former patients and newcomers to the monthly health fair held by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation specifically for refugees and asylum seekers living in Bangkok. This program, held on the last Sunday of each month, is partially funded by the United States Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migrations (PRM), with medical support from Banphaeo Hospital and Rama Hospital. It also receives referral and translation assistance from the Bangkok Asylum Seeker and Refugee Assistance Network (BASRAN), which includes Jesuit Relief Services, Asylum Access Thailand, Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, and other grassroots organizations, churches, and institutions focused on serving the urban refugee and asylum seeker population in Bangkok.

In the program’s pilot year of 2015, Tzu Chi performed 12,016 services on 2,944 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from Pakistan, Somalia, and Palestine. Services included basic outpatient department (OPD) services, health education, and immunizations. In the following year, the number of services grew to 12,231, while the number of registered patients decreased to 5,855. Basic vision screening and dental services were added to the program in 2016, as the demand for such needs increased. Eye surgery was performed on patients after screenings revealed cataracts. Additionally, mental health evaluations were given to those who requested it. Those who required further evaluations were referred to one of the partnering hospitals. In 2017, several improvements were made to the monthly vision and dental services. In February, a grand opening ceremony was held for the opening of two permanent and fully equipped dental facilities, which provided services once a month. As of May 2017, 95 patients have received dental services. Two dentists were hired for the monthly event, treating roughly 30 to 40 patients per session with screenings, extractions, fillings, and cleanings. In regards to vision, 14 patients requested vision screening, 3 of whom received cataract surgery. Additionally, acupuncture services were made available for the 32 patients who have requested it, improving overall health and reducing pain. In order to promote basic hygiene and sanitation practices, 192 patients requested and received complimentary haircuts on site. In order to promote cultural diversity, Tzu Chi invited urban refugees to prepare dishes from their home countries of Pakistan and Somalia, providing free lunches to the 400-500 patients and families of patients present during lunchtime. Lastly, Tzu Chi has been donating second-hand articles of clothing to the urban refugees and asylum seekers; in March 2017, 238 people received the donations. As of May 2017, Tzu Chi saw 2,384 registered patients since the beginning of the year, 719 of whom were minors under the age of 18.

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