01/14/2005, 00.00
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No aid to Burmese tsunami victims

by Danielle Vella
Police pick up illegal immigrants in refugee camps to deport them. Rumours accuse them of looting damaged hotels. The government does not plan helping them.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Burmese tsunami victims in southern Thailand have not received any relief assistance; instead they face indifference, discrimination and police repression.

Steven Forrester, communications director of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), told AsiaNews that "thousands of Burmese in southern Thailand were killed, injured, or made homeless by the Tsunami".

Mr Forrester, whose organisation works on behalf of refugees around the world, said that the Burmese "are not receiving adequate assistance for fear of being  arrested or deported if they come forward".

The tsunami-stricken southern provinces of Thailand have been home to some 128,000 Burmese refugees who fled their country where a repressive military regime continues to violate human rights. They worked in the fishing, construction, rubber plantation, dockyards, and tourist industries along Thailand's tsunami-devastated Andaman coast.

Thailand's relief assistance programmes have not included them nor has the government considered DNA testing to identify any of those who have perished in the tsunami.

This has not gone unnoticed in Thai media. This week, the Bangkok Post deplored the fact that Burmese workers are treated as they did not exist.

Life for Burmese refugees in Thailand is precarious and uncertain at the best of times. Only about 18 per cent of them are registered with Thai authorities—the others are considered illegal immigrants.

The USCRI is extremely concerned by reports that their lack of legal status is making it difficult or impossible for them to get the disaster relief they desperately need.

A police crackdown has made matters worse. With the immigration police going from refugee camp to refugee camp to round up Burmese tsunami victims to deport them, many have gone into hiding to avoid arrest and are unable to find out what happened to missing relatives.

What's more, rumours that immigrants looted tsunami-damaged hotels have hardened the attitude of the immigration police.

According to local human rights groups, as many as 1,000 Burmese in southern Thailand were killed, another 1,000 are still missing, and many more have lost their livelihoods and are homeless due to the tsunami and in need of health care, sanitation, and other basic disaster relief assistance.

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See also
Caritas Thailand sending first aid shipment to Nargis victims
After tsunami cynicism assails Christians, Muslims and Hindus
UN urges donors at Jakarta conference to give US$ 1bn for tsunami emergency
Tamil Nadu fishermen ask state government for safe homes not far from the shore
Paris Club agrees to freeze Asian debt


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