Thailand: Through the lens of a refugee

12 February 2018

Absame at a JRS Asia Pacific centre.
Absame at a JRS Asia Pacific centre. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

Bangkok – I come from a faraway country, Somalia. There, I was living in Mogadishu, the capital city, with my family. I was going to elementary school, living the life of a normal child. One day, I went to the movie with my friends. When we came back home, my house had been destroyed by a bomb and all my family members died in the explosion. I was 9 years old.

Since this day, I lived with my friend and his family. They became my new family. I grew up with them, until the day my friend went to the market and was hit by a stray bullet. From this day on, the behavior of his parents changed, and they made me work as a slave in their farm while their other children went to school.

One night, the mother called me and threatened me with a knife. She told me that I should do whatever she wanted. But, I did not want to. Her husband entered the house while we were arguing, and the wife screamed as if I assaulted her. So, I ran away. The husband ran after me with a gun and tried to shoot me. Fortunately, no bullet touched me.

As I was so frightened by what happened, I ran very far 

I ran to another village where I knew a friend of my mother lived. I wanted to hide in her house. Unfortunately, he found the house. So, my mother’s friend told me that I was not safe here and that I should go to Malaysia. She was very kind to me and helped me a lot. She planned everything for me and she took care of all the papers.

I travelled to Malaysia with an agent by plane. Upon arrival in Malaysia, he took me to the bus station. There, he put me on a bus for Thailand. He told me that I should seek asylum there, where there was already a Somali community.

He told me to get out of the bus when I hear the name ‘Bangkok’ 

I arrived in Bangkok in March 2015.

When I arrived at the bus station, I met a Somali man and asked for help. He brought me to a Somali man working in a restaurant, who told me that I could stay with him, and that I should register with the UNHCR. He accompanied me to UNHCR one week later.

I was uncertain about what would happen to me, but I asked for asylum and that’s how I became an asylum seeker.

As an unaccompanied minor, I got some financial assistance from an organisation. It was very hard for me at this time. Arriving in Bangkok, I felt safe and happy, but also scared because of the stories of Somali getting arrested and living in the Immigration Detention Center.

Since I arrived in Bangkok, I have always shared my accommodation with roommates, in order to save money. But since July 2017, I am trying to live on my own. I wake up at 6am every morning and I go job hunting in the factories located around my room. I got a job in a factory making clothes and bags. The work conditions were very hard. I worked from 8am to 9pm. The boss told me he liked the way I was working but that he could not hire me because of my situation.

I wish I could work

Sometimes I get rice from the mosque, and I try to keep it as long as I can. I only take little by little every day. I cook it myself and I add a little bit of curry to it. That is my daily meal.

One day, one of my neighbors, who was an interpreter with JRS, told me that I should go there. That is how I got to know JRS. I finally approached JRS in March 2016. I met with one of the caseworkers here, and I shared my story with him. They helped me with emergency situations to get food or to pay my rent.

JRS gave me the name of a school and all the information about the education programme. I stayed there for 2 months studying Thai and English. Unfortunately, I had to stop going there for security reasons. I have the basics of Thai and English and I can study on the internet.

JRS showed me how to live here and how to survive. They always give me good advice. I am grateful that they have helped me. I respect JRS.

I want to change my life 

I do not want to continue in this life of hiding myself. I would like to have legal documents and be able to help people in the same situation. I am waiting for my interview with UNHCR and hope they will help me. My life is very hard now, but I will be patient. I will not give up, I will go on and reach my goal.


The story of Absame, an asylum seeker living in Bangkok, shows incredible bravery, resilience, and persistence. He embraced opportunities for education and utilised his perseverance and skills to find informal employment under extremely tough circumstances. Above all, he perseveres with the hope of a better future. Jesuit Refugee Service Thailand (JRS) has been privileged to accompany him in his courageous journey.