COVID-19 does not stop Thai Church's work on behalf of migrants and refugees

Work went on during pandemic despite "restrictions,” Catholic volunteer noted. Volunteers and some refugees helped to make masks and sanitisers. People in urgent need are “fragile,” said a priest in Bangkok. Health crisis has increased inequalities.


Bangkok (AsiaNews) – The emergency caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which the Thai government has better tackled than others, including its neighbours, has not stopped the Church from helping migrants and refugees.

Sawanya Manitkul, a staff member of the Victims and refugee relief Department (VRD) of the Archdiocese of Bangkok, said that his agency continued to work during COVID-19. Despite restrictions on camp visits, volunteers contribute to “the production of masks and cleaning solutions" which are difficult to find and cost a lot.

The Catholic volunteer spoke about the awareness-raising action undertaken to improve knowledge about the virus and show people, especially the weakest groups, how to protect themselves during the pandemic.

In this situation of mutual aid, some of the more experienced refugees "helped us to make masks". Indeed, it was a source of "pride” for Sawanya Manitkul to see how "migrants were not just waiting for help" but "shared their food with those who had nothing to eat". They are extraordinary models "in times of crisis and bring us consolation.”

VRD director Fr Sommai Mathurossuwan noted that the refugees are by and large "fragile people who need urgent help;” firstly, because "they didn't leave their homeland of their free will, but were forced to do so" over issues like religion, culture, race or injustice and violence.

Refugees often lack “basic resources to survive" and their children "do not benefit from basic education;” access to medical care is "almost impossible" except for those who "fight against COVID-19".

For the clergyman, the ongoing crisis shows how inequalities and evil are still present in the world; and the refugee issue "is the desperate cry for help so that someone can care for them.”

The situation reminded him of Pope Francis’s message of 27 September 2017, when the pontiff stressed that migrants are our brothers and sisters "in search of a better life" far from poverty, hunger, abuse and injustice.

So far, the Thai government has opened temporary shelters for 97,000 refugees from Myanmar along the borders between the two countries. An additional 5,000 refugees from some 40 countries have asked for shelter.

Overall, Thailand hosts at least 479,000 refugees. Their situation has improved in recent years, thanks to the intervention of various associations, including Catholic charities, as well as international bodies like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Over the past decade, at least 100,000 refugees have obtained citizenship.

According to United Nations, 2018 saw a record 70.8 million refugees in the world. The situation is not much better this year, and the number shows no sign of decreasing. Over half of the people in need are under the age of 18, while 70 per cent of refugee households live below the poverty line.

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