Seeking Refuge: An Exploration of Unaccompanied Women, Minors from Somalia and Families from Pakistan Experiences of Services in Bangkok, Thailand


  • Aster S. Tecle University of Utah
  • Kara Byrne University of Utah
  • Kimberly Schmit Independent community organizer, research consultant and educator
  • Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson University of Utah
  • Naima Mohamed Department of Workforce Services - Refugee Services Office
  • Abdulkhaliq Mohamed University-Neighborhood Partners, University of Utah
  • Rosemarie Hunter University of Utah



Refugees, urban refugees, asylum-seekers, refugee services, community-based research, partnerships


The number of unprotected urban refugees in Bangkok has grown over the past few years with new migrations of young women, men and families from Somalia and Pakistan. An urban environment can mean opportunity for some but for many the environment can increase vulnerability to exploitation and detention. This study aimed to explore refugees’ experiences in Bangkok, assess agencies’ service delivery models, and strengthen their capabilities to address service gaps. Participants were recruited using purposeful sampling and snowball. Using CBPR, focus groups discussion with Somali and Pakistani refugees (n=63) and individual interviews (n=42) were conducted. Agencies’ staff (n=23) were interviewed regarding challenges in providing services to refugees. Qualitative data analysis revealed four major themes: lack of basic need, problems with legal services, agencies revealed urgent need for shifting from emergency services towards long-term strategies given the protracted immigration status of urban refugees, and the need for a collaborative approach in service provision emerged as an urgent call. Implications to social work practice with urban refugees focusing on potentials for innovative service provision and collective agency responses are discussed.

Author Biographies

Aster S. Tecle, University of Utah

Aster Solomon is an Assistant Professor in the College of Social Work, University of Utah. She works with refugees and immigrants exploring their migration experiences and resettlement processes. Her research interests include community-based research; forced migration, globalization and social justice; research and indigenous knowledge; and global food systems and displacement.

Kara Byrne, University of Utah

Kara Byrne is an Assistant Research Professor at the University of Utah. She is currently engaged in a participatory action research project and multiple program evaluation and improvement projects in large agency settings and community-based organizations.  Research interests include eviction and tenants with refugee and immigrant background, evaluation and improvement of collective impact projects, and the implementation of evidence-based practice in child welfare settings. 

Kimberly Schmit, Independent community organizer, research consultant and educator

Kimberly Schmit is an independent community organizer, research consultant and educator who spends her time working with immigrant leaders, grassroots organizations, school districts, nonprofits, government entities and colleges and universities.

Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson, University of Utah

Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson, PhD, CSW received her Ph.D. in Social Work from the University of Utah in 2008.  For the past 17 years, she has directed multiple studies and program evaluations with state and regional level government agencies and is currently the principal investigator of several studies sponsored by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services (DWS). These include evaluations of the work focused cash assistance program, state labor exchange services and employment for formerly chronically homeless individuals. 

Naima Mohamed, Department of Workforce Services - Refugee Services Office

Naima Mohamed has over 8 years of experience working with refugee communities from various communities locally and internationally. My most recent experience with refugees has been supporting refugees with the training and resources they needed to be successful and quality in home childcare providers at Salt Lake County, Office of Community Innovations. Currently I work for the state of Utah to provide trauma informed care for refugees.

Abdulkhaliq Mohamed, University-Neighborhood Partners, University of Utah

As the Partnership Director, Abdulkhaliq’s role is to connect partnerships across umbrella areas, build staff capacity to facilitate high-quality partnerships, and work with researchers to align partnership indicators with UNP mission & evaluation. Abdulkhaliq is from Somalia and moved to Utah in 2003. He graduated from the University of Utah in 2012 with a Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) degree. He continued his education and received a Masters of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Utah in 2014. He is currently working on a second masters degree in City & Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah, and masters in Business Administration. Abdulkhaliq has worked for UNP since 2006. He has presented at local, national, and international conferences and presented about bridging cultural gaps between systems and new arriving communities to decrease systemic barriers faced by new arriving populations. Abdulkhaliq is particularly interested in building connections and enriching the lives and values of people from all walks of life. He spends much of his time focusing on strengthening UNP’s partnership model as well as meeting with partners and stakeholders to build relationships and connections that will create sustainable partnerships, system level changes, and high quality programs and projects. Abdulkhaliq speaks Somali, English, and Swahili. He loves to spend time with his wife and four children.


Rosemarie Hunter, University of Utah

Dr. Hunter joined the CSW faculty in 1995, and currently serves as an Associate Professor. She is a program director for the Bridging Border Partnership, an annual “Train the Trainer” program that engages students and faculty with working inside refugee camps along the Thailand/Myanmar (Burma) border. Most recently, Dr. Hunter served as Special Assistant to the President for Campus-Community Partnerships, and Director of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), a campus-community partnership initiative focused on creating greater access to higher education for underrepresented populations and community capacity-building partnerships. 


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