05/28/2008, 00.00
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Burmese refugees in Thailand ready to go home to bring help

by Weena Kowitwanij
A priest involved in camps along the border talks about the great solidarity and courage shown by migrants who, despite the risks they might encounter, want to go home to help people displaced by cyclone Nargis. He is sceptical about the military regime’s pledge of openness towards Western humanitarian workers.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – As conscious as they are of the risks they are running, Burmese refugees in Thailand are willing to go home to bring help to their fellow countrymen and women faced by the destruction meted out by cyclone Nargis last 2 and 3 May, this according to a Burmese priest involved in nine camps set up along the Thai border that are home to some 100,000 refugees from misery, persecution and abuses in their native land.

The priest, who asked his identity be protected, told AsiaNews that the refugees “have seen many atrocities, their homes burn, relatives or friends killed or arrested.” “If they go back they could be killed without motive, but each one of them is ready to leave to help the hundreds of thousands of Burmese in the north-west.”

The Thai Catholic Church in collaboration with COERR (Caritas Thailand) is sending large amounts of material aid and money to the Burmese Church which is working first hand to aid those displaced by cyclone Nargis.

Currently only a third of the 2.4 million people affected are getting any assistance, according to the United Nations.

Myanmar’s strongman Than Shwe promised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that his government would facilitate the entry of “all” humanitarian workers, who had been forced to wait for three weeks on the sidelines along the country’s borders or in Yangon. Indeed in the Irrawaddy Delta region, the most affected area, some villages are still isolated.

Military-controlled state media expressed appreciation for the UN intervention, and this development might be a sign that the junta is ready to be more open towards the rest of the world.

Similarly, the United Nations said it was confident that things will improve.

However, the priest AsiaNews interviewed remains sceptical about the military regime’s “openness”.

“The generals,” he said, “are only concerned with their own security and are afraid that the presence of foreigners might help groups that have been preparing for some time to turn against the regime.”

Myanmar’s government accepted Church intervention only on the condition that it does not interfere in politics. “For this reason,” he added, “we chose to hand out basic aid on Sundays after Mass.”

“Given the terrible situation, as a priest and a Burmese I am convinced that I must do all I can for my country and do so as an instrument of the Lord.”

The clergyman will soon leave for Myanmar, once known as Burma, with the task of supervising the distribution of aid sent by COERR.

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See also
Caritas Thailand sending first aid shipment to Nargis victims
Nargis: more than 100,000 dead, the PIME joins aid efforts
Ban Ki-moon will not see Burma’s real catastrophe
The junta continues to spurn the international community
Archbishop of Yangon: Emergency continues, let in foreign aid