At first glance Ibrahim looks like any other 23-year-old Thai youth with hopes and dreams. Yet his life is anything but normal, as he carefully clears fallen debris from the gravestones of both his parents and older brother – having lost them in the ongoing conflict that has gripped southern Thailand since 2004.
Ibrahim’s calm exterior hides his profound sense of loss and grief. He elaborates, “When my parents died, for over one year it deeply affected me. I was afraid in the community and I had no courage to go outside. I thought many people were watching me and mistrusted me. When I lost my parents and brother I couldn’t study anymore. I had to work to earn money. Every time I walk past my parent’s room I think about them.”
Ibrahim typifies many of the high-risk youth and men affected by the conflict. This marginalized group lack educational or social opportunities and have inadequate life skills. This is despite the Thai Government spending more than 206,094.400 million baht in security, development and compensation trying to reign in the unrest, according to a recent study, Men and Youth in Thailand’s Conflict-affected Deep South, by the Center for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity at the Prince of Songkla University, supported by the World Bank.
Ibrahim seeks something more important than financial compensation: justice and closure. “What I want is justice for my mother, father and brother. I want to know clearly the cause of their deaths, but until now no one can find out who the perpetrators were. I want to end the suffering inside of me caused by their loss.”
Psychological impact on men and male youth
Trying to address the deep-rooted grievances in communities regardless of religion or group, Dr Pechdau Tohmeena from the Department of Mental Health has established a local Mental Health Center in conflict-affected areas.
She explains the psychological impact the conflict has had on men and male youth, “According to data we collected in the past ten years, at least 63% of the men are psychologically affected compared to 30% of women. Men are more affected than women because they feel they are suspected of unrest all the time. Men feel like they have to be strong and tough in every situation.”
Dr Pechdau’s efforts have helped to slowly build trust with the vulnerable populations needing support and the state support system like hospitals.
“Our work cannot access all of the men affected, but they need support. We need to coordinate with CSOs/NGOs at the local level to reach these target groups. The NGOs help to ‘scan’ potential vulnerable groups and serious cases are referred to us,” says Dr Pechdau.
Building mutual understanding and trust
Another aspect of the conflict often overlooked is the stigma associated with former detainees. Some people were detained based on evidence found at crime scenes while others are implicated without clear evidence. Upon returning to their own communities, they are ostracized even if cases are dropped against them, and have a hard time finding employment.
The vulnerability of these men reintegrating into society is further highlighted in the case of Abdulrosa Kadea, who faced 21 criminal and national security cases, yet after spending time in jail, had all the cases dropped.
“After I fought my cases and came out of prison, I felt like I had a mark on me. It is difficult to apply for jobs at certain companies because they look at my history,” Abdulrosa says. “Money is important as compensation. But what’s more important is our psychological well-being. Allowing us to survive, to live with dignity and give us the strength to fight for our livelihoods.”
In this volatile situation, Kitti Surakamhaeang, of the Justice Administrative Unit, is trying to address the deep resentment from local communities against the government.
“We need to improve and build understanding amongst groups in the three southern provinces through good communication and trust building,” he says. “Overall, the situation is better because the government is listening more and supporting education.”
Providing support to men and youth in Thailand’s Deep South is an enormous challenge that will require coordination between the government, private sector, NGOs, civil society and religious institutions, according to the study. Working together with the aim of decreasing negative effects on the men in the conflict-affected areas will be an important step towards mitigating the conditions that lead to conflict.
As one of the locals, Hak Asasi Brikemanusloan, who works for a human rights organization, shares, “In the future I dream of peace, who wouldn’t dream of peace? But in order to achieve this every side needs to trust each other.”
Photo caption: Ibrahim lost both his parents and older brother in the ongoing conflict that has gripped southern Thailand since 2004.
Article courtesy of The World Bank.
Article link: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2016/09/21/men-and-youth-in-thailands-conflict-affected-deep-south?cid=EAP_NLThailandEN_P_EXT