In a Jesuit Refugee Service art class meant to help women express their feelings and heal from trauma, a Somali refugee girl named Amina drew this picture. (Nick Jones — Jesuit Refugee Service)
(Bangkok) July 16, 2015 — The drawing that Amina, a Somali refugee girl, made during a JRS activity session is telling. From left to right, word-bubbles over a girl's head read "Trapped." "Sadness." "Hope."
"My nightmare begins with the man who raped me," says Amina, "joined by the man who trafficked me here."
Amina and other refugee women in Bangkok, Thailand's capital, have faced war, rape, and systemic oppression. They flee out of necessity, paying massive fees to smugglers to reach western countries in hopes of safety. Sometimes they are abandoned or robbed. "Smugglers tells us they can get us a job in the west. And Refugee Status with UNHCR in other countries is easier, so our families pay for us to go there to work and live," continues Amina. "But instead I was flown into Malaysia then put into the back of a bus to cross into Thailand."
Amina had no idea where she was. They took her documents. "Now, I am left with no papers or options."
As part of its Urban Refugee Project in Bangkok, Jesuit Refugee Service offers group counseling sessions for Somali and Pakistani women and unaccompanied girls. The refugee women are almost all survivors of sexual violence, and are at risk for re-victimization in their vulnerable circumstances.
"Group sessions help them feel less alone," says Jennifer Martin, a psychosocial counselor who leads the JRS sessions. After their "horrific experiences," says Martin, the women can share their feelings "with women who relate. They can also mirror positive behavior for their own development."
The shock of being in a different culture can be overwhelming and create tension, particularly for older women. Often dependent on a spouse or male figure back home, these women and girls face challenges, from simply walking outside alone to making a living. The sessions help them develop coping skills.
"They need to find a way to function in a place where they are considered illegal, which is why these sessions are so vital," says Martin. The sessions build a sense of belonging to a community, and the group's cohesion is a long-term protective factor as the women navigate new dangers.
In one group session, young Somali girls gather around a table for art activities. The topic is sharing nightmares and their experiences of being trafficked. The young women create a collage of pictures to represent their nightmares and presented them to the group. Making art allows them to express themselves and break out of their social isolation.
Facing unresolved issues is difficult, but JRS group sessions continue to help these girls to adjust to their new surroundings and build confidence.
Jennifer explains the transformation she's witnessed. "Seeing the girls quiet and stiff in the first session, and then watching them socializing with one another like anyone else after our sessions, makes me feel happy.
"They are funny, creative, and thoughtful girls who are finding their way with so much courage."
Adapted from an article by Nick Jones
Regional Advocacy Communications Officer for JRS Asia Pacific