Credit - Yasin AkqulAFPGetty

Refugee Mother, Effects on Gender, Wounds Repeatedly Inflicted from Conflicts

20 September 2016

Story by: Wajana Wanlayangkul

First Published in MATICHON ONLINE 

The role of women as mothers is globally regarded as those who give lives and protect their own offspring.


This does not include certain cultures where women or mothers are expected to take care of the family and relatives apart from their own offspring.


In normal circumstances, it is a hard burden. If “mothers” must bear this burden while being refugees for any reason, it will bring immense hardship.


This applies specifically to refugees from wars which left a number of women single moms, as their husbands deceased in such violent events.


The Academic Club, Faculty of Political Sciences, Chulalongkorn University and Amnesty International held an exhibition entitled 

“Me My Mom Memo: a story of refugees" along with a small group discussion.


Let’s listen to information and experience from working with refugees.


Wanrob Wararat, Asylum Access Thailand Coordinating Officer, explained that refugees are those who have been affected by political, religious, gender differences without any protection from the government or it is the government that commits violence.


While Thailand has not become a party to the International Convention for Refugees, the government officials implement the immigration law to treat these people. Most refugees do not have a permit to stay in Thailand, and therefore they cannot access the basic factors, especially the four factors.


“Most refugees in the urban area do not have good preparation since they don’t know how long they will be staying. Most of their budget is spent up, and they have to become illegal workers. They don’t have money to pay for their rent, and they encounter physical and mental health problems, including problems concerning accessing their children to education, since Thailand lacks mechanisms and laws for refugees.”

“As of now, there are a lot of illegal refugee workers. Most of them do the jobs that normal people don’t, and there’s no protection or certification that they will get paid. I know a Pakistani refugee who has a wife and three kids. He earns 120 Baht a day washing cars when he’s supposed to get 300 Baht like other workers. But he has no choice.”


As for refugee mothers, Wanrob sees that the most vulnerable group are single moms which are classified into cases:

1. Single moms from their country of origin because the head of the family was hurt;


2. Single moms whose head of the family was captured in an alien detention waiting for deportation.


“I met a single mom who has to leave her kids with her neighbor. She gets dressed and goes out at night, and she’s at risk of entering prostitution. Many single moms struggle to survive. For some families, the father has good income, but when the police arrest him, he is sent to the alien detention. So the mother needs to make income by herself.”


In terms of application for refugee status with UNHCR, the simplicity or complexity of application does not depend on the size of family, but there are criteria on priority for certain people, such as those who have serious health problems, those who are under 18 years old without parents, etc. Single mothers are regarded as vulnerable and should be prioritized as well.


Wanrob stated that there are around eight thousand refugees in Thailand coming from 52 countries around the world. According to his work experience, there is a Muslim country where women coming from such country have been sexually harassed. According to his data collection, many countries have ethnic conflicts, and they use rape as a tool to harm the other group in conflict.


“At the end of the day, those who have been sexually harassed will lack confidence and feel that they are powerless. Some people have children from being raped, which is like a double insult. Some have been hurt in their homeland and are scolded by the people in the new country that their children are fatherless. These people will be prioritized for the interview,” said Wanrob.


Another Aspect of Effects on Gender from Violent Events

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Chalidaporn Songsampan, a lecturer from the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, said that the academic community has studied a number of cases concerning gender and refugee, but she deemed that working staff treated female refugees in a passive and narrow manner. The female refugees are usually portrayed as "victims" and likely to be seen "mothers", which leads to problems when considering measures in providing assistance. Many female refugees are often overlooked.


How Will People Be Affected in terms of Gender in Violent Situations?

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Chalidaporn explained that:

1. When there are casualties, a number of people affected lost their beloved ones. This may not only sound emotional, but refugee girls who have lost their family members need to escape elsewhere in different cultures. Having no man to protect them is great danger, like in African society.


2. In terms of economic impact, many people in the world do not have many resources. They make a living day to day, and they certainly struggle. In many cultures, women play the role of "care giver" taking care for their children, parents, and older adults. It will be more difficult if they do not see how the economic impact will be improved in the future.

“The refugee status that those people have received does not make them belong in the society. In Syria, there’s an article stating that the best way to deal with refugees is to merge them with the society because no one can take care of them. However, the common practice is that the government let the refugee stay without any management.”


3. In terms of sexual violence, in the circumstances where social rules are broken, sexual violence ensues, especially rape. Young girls without a man protecting them are at risk of exposing to sexual violence resulting from the violence erupting in the society.


“The problem is that this type of violence has never been acknowledged. If a state reaches the stage where a war ends with peaceful processes, sexual violence will not be included. Many people have been affected by it will be abandoned, especially those refugees who do not have the government to protect them."


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Chalidaporn stated that the aforementioned reasons may sound like women are weak or the victims, but one thing that should not be overlooked is that there are a lot of women in a serious conflict who commit violence or make movement to fight for certain issues, including the protests about sexual violence. Do not forget these women.


“In the times where social rules disappear, the wall that barricades the violence will disappear, and people will be affected. The people in the Thai society must be careful because when they aim at winning in the politics too much, the rules will disappear and these rules cannot be reestablished easily,” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Chalidaporn.


In the end, “refugee mothers” may not need sympathy or compassion as women, but they want to be accepted as fellow human beings so that they have an opportunity to live in the society equally.