Pastoral Care for Urban Refugees in Bangkok - January to June 2017

Pastoral Care for Urban Refugees in Bangkok - January to June 2017

Fr John Murray O.S.A. works and lives in Bangkok. He is in ministry with the urban refugees and asylum seekers and has been in the community for many years. As well as heading the Augustinian Ministry there, he also works as part of Caritas Internationalis' Global Compact on Refugees and Migrants. 

In this blog, he writes a report on his ministry from January to June 2017.


The harsh reality is that resettlement is looking less and less a reality in today’s world for this population, while their lot in trying to survive in a Thailand gets ever harder. 

As at 31st May, UNHCR statistics for the local urban refugee population were 4,132 refugees and 3,316 asylum seekers. 

The vast majority of both categories comes from Pakistan. Following the Pakistanis, the refugees come from Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Vietnam.  As for the asylum seekers, they then come from Vietnam, Somalia, Iran and Cambodia. 

Help Given: 

20,000 baht a month continues to be consistently given in financial assistance and to the same ongoing targets for receiving support.  This results in a total of 120,000 baht given over this six month period.  The supported cases within the urban refugee community are: 

1)     Rent for a room, serving as a space for prayer and meetings, in an apartment building housing many refugee families.  

2)     Rent for a refugee learning centre, named CEC, that is run within another apartment building where refugee families live.  

3)     Monthly support for a Congolese family whose father had suffered a stroke while in the Thai Immigration Police detention centre.  The father’s health and his being out on bail has reduced his hope of the family regaining an independent livelihood.  

4)     Support for a Pakistani family whose parents are actively supporting education efforts within the refugee community.  They are both teachers and all their educational efforts are done in service to help their people.  They are both pro-active in the refugee community and beyond through their church. 

5)     Limited money given to help emergency cases with food and medicine. 


REDA, a Spanish Augustinian Foundation supporting vulnerable populations in education, has generously sent funds for CEC – the refugee centre that is supported under this programme.  The REDA money allowed for the refugee teachers to receive a monthly income and for the children to go on much valued day trips.  This REDA money has now come to an end.

Thank you to REDA. 

This programme will continue paying the rent for CEC which presently has 27 young students taught by four teachers.  An NGO, named Life Raft, helping the population is also supporting this centre.  It plans to upgrade its support through training and skilling the teachers and offering an educational curriculum with a Christian base.   

The remaining REDA money will be used to help the already named Congolese family in sending their daughter to KIS.  She does have a scholarship but there are daily expenses that need to be covered like travel and lunch.  This money will allow this bright young teenager to reach her dream of returning to school.  I am so happy for her.  

- The money given by the Spanish Augustinian Sisters has now finished.  I can only say – Thank you to the Sisters.  You ever stand in solidarity. 

The money given by the Presentation Sisters in Queensland allows the help given under this programme to continue.  Once again, a big thanks for standing in solidarity. 

Some Reflections: 

a)     The global scene is adversely affecting UNHCR’s activities locally.  I see this now coming from a three-fold source:

-the various conflicts in Syria, Sudan, Iraq and elsewhere taking their toll on UNHCR resources;

-politics in our world moving against these people, resulting in less money being given and fewer offers for resettlement being offered by governments;

-as already mentioned, the framework set up under the new upcoming Global Compact for Refugees speaks of new paradigms – more creative ways of offering help than just through a UNHCR focus and offering a wider range of durable solutions with less focus on resettlement. 

b)     The UNHCR budget at the local level keeps reducing.  This results in less help being available to their persons of concern – the refugees.  Fewer refugees are receiving a monthly allowance.  My management at the Bangkok Refugee Centre expresses concern at how the population can sustain itself at a survival level.  Basically, the expressed concern is the higher risk of their becoming homeless and of not being able to feed themselves.  UNHCR offers its help through programmes.  The implication of this is that no help is given in kind, meaning a hungry family coming to the refugee centre can be given no food.  This highlights the need for NGOs and churches in offering humanitarian assistance. 

c)     I have spoken before how the refugee existence here is one of being stuck (or as named in a local newspaper article, “stuck in limbo”).  This sense of being stuck is only getting deeper, with UNHCR talking of their staying here long term and no longer focus on resettlement, even if with refugee status; with asylum seekers finding that their refugee claim has been rejected and they are now here without any backing or any hope of UNHCR support, along with a lack of personal resources. 

d) Over time, I am seeing my ministry developing more into one of connecting with, helping and working with other NGOs, churches and individuals helping this population.  This has been a natural development. 

With time, those I am able to help are ones with whom I now have a personal relationship and for whom I have a sense of responsibility for their well-being.  While I must act against their being dependent on me, I cannot just abandon them. 

I am keeping an eye open for when it is the right time to withdraw help from one family or recipient and apply financial help in a new direction, while maintaining ongoing support and a relationship. 

So it is not about getting stuck in ministry but being faithful and about, as one person working with this population noted, being the gap in their lives when they need it.          

e)     The Thai government is cracking down on those staying here undocumented.  Yes, it is done for a good cause in acting against trafficking and exploitation but the approach is purely punitive, being based on policing and control mechanisms.  Such an approach alone does not work and serves further to victimize already victimized populations among the peoples on the move – both migrants and refugees.  The recent new measures serve further to instill fear in an already fearful population and to allow for more corruption.   Tragic!


A Concluding Remark:         

As always, the last word is a sincere word of gratitude.  I do these reports not just to report on money but more importantly as a communication of solidarity – solidarity with a small population our world may easily and conveniently forget amidst all the problems and tragedies seemingly overcoming humanity or being used by powerful forces for their own gain, whatever that may be.  Everyone has their God given place in this world.  These people remain a constant reminder that we need each other to assume that rightful place.  As I asked in a paper I recently presented at an academic gathering - Why do we help migrants and refugees, those who are outsiders? 

We help simply because they are fellow human beings in need of help, because they are here before us and share in the same human dignity given to all of us by God.  That is enough reason.    Very simply, what we do as Christians is help people in need.         

John P Murray osa – Bangkok, July 2017