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Friday, January 14, 2005

Burmese workers in Thailand caught in a vicious circle

Win Soe, a 19-year-old Burmese worker, spent days searching for her parents and two brothers who went missing from a fishing boat anchored off Ban Nam Khem in Phang Nga.

She has now given up the search, convinced that the December 26 tsunami took her family.

Alone and in despair, all she wants to do is go back home to Burma, but her employer refuses to release her from her employment contract.

Thousands of Burmese migrant workers who survived the deadly catastrophe are facing the same grief and uncertainty as Win Soe.

To make matters worse they are receiving little, if any, relief.

Many, like Win Soe, have been unable to break their contracts, while many others who wanted to stay on and search for missing relatives have been deported.

Swiss Ambassador to Thailand Hans-Peter Erismann expressed concern over the fate of Burmese workers because of the treatment they are receiving.

“I don’t know how to help them,” he said in an interview.

More than 120,000 Burmese workers are employed in the six southern provinces, working on fishing boats and rubber plantations. About 10,000 of them were directly affected by the disaster, said a social worker who monitors migrant workers in Thailand.

An estimated 600 Burmese alone working on fishing boats in Ban Nam Khem vanished in the killer tsunami, said Pranom Somwong of Action Network for Migrants (Thailand).

Of the 3,700 still unidentified corpses, about 1,000 are believed to be Burmese, said Surapong Kongchantuk, from the Law Society.

The authorities were not providing proper assistance to the Burmese and most were afraid to ask for help because of a police crackdown on the workers, which began after reports that some Burmese were involved in looting, he said.

Immigration police are repatriating Burmese workers because officials be-lieve they took part in looting in devastated areas after the tsunami, sources said.

Immigration police had sent back 1,500 Burmese workers in the first two weeks following the tsunami, while about 500 Burmese were detained in Ranong pending deportation, Surapong said.

“It is inhumane to send them back while they are suffering. They should be given the basic necessities like other victims,” said Surapong, who is the Law Society’s vice chairman of the human rights sub-committee on ethnic migrants.

Fearing arrest and expulsion, many Burmese have fled into the jungle and are begging food from temples in the Phang Nga’s Khura Buri district. Many of the injured ran off after receiving only basic medial attention.

Supalak Ganjanakhundee, Subhatra Bhumiprabhas

The Nation


Crematorium blows up from overuse

A temple’s crematorium in Phang Nga cracked open after non-stop cremations of tsunami victims.

Phrakru Wibulwetchasit, abbot of Lak Kaen Temple in Thai Muang district, said yesterday that the incinerator had overheated after being used for days and split into pieces. It was beyond repair and a replacement would cost over Bt1 million.

Chakratham Thammasak, director of the National Buddhism Office, said Bt46 million has been requested to allocate to temples in six southern provinces.

Monks have been working overtime conducting funeral rites and cremating corpses. Some monks had died and others were injured in the catastrophe. Temples had been swept away by the giant waves and had to be reconstructed.

A committee will be set up in each province to be headed by provincial chief monks and advised by the Region 7 chief monk to oversee funding for rehabilitation and reconstruction of temples.

Source: The Nation