In five months of work with Asylum Access Thailand, I have gained new insight on humanity through intercultural communication with my clients. My clients are urban refugees in Bangkok who come from all over Asia and Africa. In particular, they come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Every day, I learn how my clients test the bounds of humanity. My clients arrive in Bangkok with little or no money. They arrive without shelter, without food and without a community. These refugees in Bangkok are vulnerable to arrest (because many are living in Thailand with expired visas). Every day my clients ask what they can do for money, how they can feed their families and where they can go to live. I wish I had the answers they wanted to hear.
Despite their problems, clients consistently push forward in hope that their refugee case will be granted by the United Nations Refugee Agency, and that they will soon be resettled to some safe country. I am happy that I can be there to help my clients.
I am meeting with clients from significantly different cultures on a daily basis. I am learning about new cultures through my daily interactions with each of my clients. I try to greet and thank my clients in their native languages. I have learned that something so basic can build trust on the lawyer-client relationship. Also, these basic interactions make my clients feel more comfortable talking about traumatic events in their lives.
To give an example, working with my three unaccompanied children, I once thanked them in Urdu. I said "shuk ria," meaning "thank you." They asked if I spoke Urdu, and I replied that I only knew how to say thank you and "biryani" (I love South Asian food). This broke the stream of tears, and they started laughing. Then, I've noticed, that it is easier for my clients to talk about the problems that they had in their home country.
Small exchanges, like the "biryani" one above, have taught me to continue connecting to my clients through intercultural exchanges. It gives me insight on what makes them happy, and even gives me the chance to learn a little more about them -- one of the children said she loves to make biryani, and wants to cook for me one day. Ultimately, I believe that this will give my clients the opportunity to trust me, and to open up more so that I can assist them to the best of my ability.