Bangkok, 27 August 2012 – Being a nurse in a detention centre is gruelling work, but the rewards are worth it. Just ask Vatchareeya Thanyaananphol, who has been working with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) for 16 years at the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok (IDC).
“The first time I came to IDC, the doctor took me upstairs and I met the children in the cells. I decided right then I would work here for them even if they would not pay,” Vatchareeya said.
The Suan Phlu IDC hosts more than 900 detainees, according to June estimates. Fifty-five are either refugees waiting for resettlement or asylum seekers waiting for their refugee claims to be processed. Fifteen of the 55 are children under the age of 18. Vatchareeya starts her daily grind at five o’ clock every morning when she arrives to cook rice and other meals for the detainees. Along with a doctor, she treats minor infections and doles out medicine for common ailments. When JRS negotiates bail for detainees, Vatchareeya vouches for them as a guarantor.
“When I see them still here, I want to do what I can to help,” she shrugged. But teamwork is essential to keep spirits high.
I like working with Vatchareeya because I can see how hard she works and how much she cares,” said Sumrit Doungupama, who is JRS’ hospitality staff worker at the IDC, and has worked alongside Vatchareeya for fifteen years.
JRS’ involvement in the IDC spans over more than three decades with a mission to ensure that everybody, including elderly, sick, pregnant, and vulnerable detainees, have access to medical care, enough nutritious food to eat, and the opportunity for bail. Since 2011, JRS has also bailed a total of 95 people out of IDC. Once on bail, people can wait for the outcome of the refugee status determination or resettlement processes at their homes in Bangkok.
“When the police told me that [one family] could be bailed, I was so happy, my heart felt like it was coming out of my chest”, Vatchareeya said. “I went directly to the cell and told the detainees. They just started crying. They did not say anything. They just cried and I cried. Every time now, I still feel like this.”
“My heart knows that when we give, we also receive. I receive happiness from this work that money could never buy,” Vatchareeya added with smile.
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