Thailand: Surviving for the sake of her baby
12 January 2011

“All I want is to see my daughter walk, to get an education. I want her to experience a free life, a real life, that she could not have in Djibouti,” Amina said.

Bangkok,13 December 2010 – Amina came to Bangkok looking for a new life for her and her baby.  “(I hoped for) a free life compared to Djibouti,” Amina said. "Freedom on what I want to eat, where to go to church, etc. No one to control me".

Amina was a police officer in Djibouti for 10 years in the secret service with the Immigration Passport Division (Foreign Service Division). When she was in her early twenties, Amina's uncle, who wanted her dowry, forced her to marry a high-ranking police officer.

With this forced marriage, she claimed she had been sold.

Her husband forced her to wear headscarf.

"If you wear western clothes then you are considered not to be a good woman", she explained.

What's worse, he maltreated her by poisoning her food. After eating dinner, her nose would bleed. This was one of many tactics to keep her inside the house and keep her subordinate. He also burned her head with chemicals. Today, she still faints easily and can't keep her balance.

"Men have all the power. Women have no power. I cannot eat what I want when I want. I have to eat leftovers", she said.

And things got worse when she became pregnant. She was not able to get prenatal care.

This is when she decided to escape.

She is but one survivor of sexual- and gender-based violence. She fled from her country with the support of an evangelical church at nine months pregnant. She gave birth in Bangkok and her baby girl was born with medical problems due to absence of vaccination. Doctors are not sure if she will be able to walk.

"All I want is to see my daughter walk, to get an education. I want her to experience a free life, a real life, that she could not have in Djibouti", Amina said.

When she first got to Bangkok, she had to beg for money on the streets, and relied on unstable support from individuals to buy formula milk for her daughter. She slept on the floor in the Bangkok church during night time since there was no space for her and baby during the day.

"My biggest fear is the police. Without a visa, I am always unsafe here", Amina said.

With assistance from JRS, she has found housing and food for her and her daughter. She was quickly given refugee status and is seeking resettlement.

"I get my strength from my baby... . I have to be strong for her", she added.

But her struggle is far from over. She has moved twice, but as an unmarried mother, she faces harassment by neighbours wherever she lives.

While officially, Amina doesn't have a job, she has become somewhat of a peer counsellor to other women fleeing sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV).

A woman from the Congo who is also a single mother and a fellow survivor of SGBV came to JRS. Amina started as an interpreter for this woman, but during the counselling session she was moved by the testimony of the client.

"I could see myself in her", she said. Instead of JRS offering her temporary shelter for a few days, Amina offered her a home.

JRS has been working with urban refugees since 1990 providing housing and emergency financial assistance, legal advice and psychosocial counseling.

*name changed for protection

Zarah Alih, psychosocial counselor for the Urban Refugee Project of JRS Thailand