Tzu Chi Thailand: Providing Medical Relief to Refugees of Bangkok
In 2014, the Bangkok Refugee Center closed its primary health care services, leaving over 7,000 asylum-seekers and refugees living in Bangkok without access to basic medical support. Since employment for refugees is illegal, the men, women, and children who have sought refuge in Bangkok from their countries in turmoil are unable to afford basic health care. The Tzu Chi Foundation, in collaboration with the Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) and in partnership with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), initiated a medical outreach program, which provides free basic medical services to asylum seekers and refugees living in Bangkok, Thailand.
On the last Sunday of each month of the year 2015, the Tzu Chi Foundation has been providing outpatient services, health education, and referral services to refugees in Bangkok. The medical outreach program was implemented with four objectives in mind: to provide outpatient services, to provide transportation to referral recipients, to provide vaccinations for minors under 15 years of age, and to provide health education and preventive health services. In collaboration with the Bangkok Asylum Seeker and Refugee Assistance Network (BASRAN), which shares information among its network of organizations that assist refugees and asylum-seekers in Bangkok, Tzu Chi was able to provide services to over 1,100 visitors in the first quarter alone, though the goal for the organization is to reach out to as many as 8,000 refugees and asylum seekers by the end of the year 2015.
BASRAN, whose membership includes UN HCR, Bangkok Refugee Center, the Jesuit Relief Services, Asylum Access Thailand, and many other grassroots organizations, religious charitable organizations, and other Non-Governmental Organizations, provided the Tzu Chi Foundation with a platform to share information, easily establish a connection with the refugees, and receive assistance in this endeavor. At each session, between 150 to 200 volunteers and a staff of 55-60 medical professionals gather at the King Rama IX Royal Park to provide medical services such as immunizations, referral services, prescriptions, medical check-ups, and health education to refugees, who come from 18 different countries. In the first quarter of this service, 185 minors younger than 15 years received services, which included pediatric care and health education. Female refugees of reproductive age, 324 in number, received gynecological services and reproductive health education in addition to the general healthcare services provided to the general population. A total of 213 prescriptions were given to the patients, who received over 22,000 counts of medical drugs during the first quarter. Future improvements to the outreach include: immunization services, more psychological medical support (such as depression counseling), and more frequent follow up services.
Since this was Tzu Chi Thailand’s first attempt at a medical outreach for asylum seekers and refugees in Bangkok, much of the first quarter was a learning experience for the foundation. Despite inexperience with such events, Tzu Chi Foundation’s Thailand branch was able to successfully implement the outreach program, thanks to assistance of BASRAM, as well as other agencies and organizations. Through BASRAN, the Tzu Chi Foundation was able to locate and hire interpreters to assist medical personnel to communicate effectively with patients. A total of 97 interpreters have been hired to assist the medical professionals to communicate with patients in over 9 different languages. Tzu Chi’s USA branch is currently supporting the outreach program by providing a customized Electronic Health Record system to record important patient information, as well as collecting vital data. The USA branch, along with the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) are also providing vital financial support of the program. Due to a new law making overstaying a visa illegal in Thailand, it was imperative to work with the local law enforcement in order to prevent arrest and detainment of the refugees seeking the outreach services.
The recipients of services have been extremely grateful for the Tzu Chi Foundation for its services. Nemah, a refugee from Pakistan, brought his family of 16 to the medical outreach. He had been living in Thailand for a year, with much difficulty communicating in the local language. As a result, he had been unable to find work, and with the lack of government assistance, he struggles every day to provide for his family. Nema says the Tzu Chi Foundation is “a very valuable gift from God”. Nachai, a Muslim volunteer interpreter from Satthachon, saw the foundation’s love and compassion as “transcending beyond religion and ethnicity”. Mutual assistance from refugees can also be witnessed. During the morning of the third session of the medical outreach, a heavy rainstorm hit the site of the event. Electronics had to be shut off immediately to prevent electrical shorts; equipment and supplies had to be covered to prevent exposure to the moisture. Hatuh, a Palestinian refugee, was waiting for the event to begin early in the morning with his family of 6. Seeing that the volunteers needed assistance, he and his family jumped on the opportunity to assist. Together with his family, he helped sweep water away from the site. “We are glad for the opportunity to help,” says Hatuh, “This place is like our home.”
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