12/27/2005, 00.00
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New hope for Myanmar migrants affected by the tsunami

by Weena Kowitwanij
Many Myanmar migrants are undocumented and have no residence permit. Hence, they have not received any government relief aid for tsunami victims. Now authorities in Ranong province want to provide some assistance. Catholics have been committed to helping the migrants' children.

Ranong (AsiaNews) – Foreign migrants, often undocumented, have not received any government assistance in Thailand. Now the authorities in the southern province of Ranong want to help; the local Catholic community has been doing just that for quite some time.

In the meantime, a random survey conducted between December 13 and 21 with some 1,500 local villagers shows that government aid is viewed as "inadequate" over the long period.  Similarly, a majority of respondents believe that the new tsunami early warning system is "insufficient". Most also have not yet found a way to make ends meet.

The fate of many Myanmar nationals who have entered Thailand without permit is another burning issue.

"Ranong Governor Maekin Tawavikul just informed me that the government wants to help the more than 2,000 Myanmar migrants of Thai origin," said Pakawin Sanpon, director of the Government Relief Centre in Ranong.

"These people have been in Ranong for a long time, but are afraid to show up for fear of arrest because they are undocumented and without a proper work permit, all of which is necessary to apply for government aid," Sanpon noted.

"With a limited budget the Stigmatine Foundation and the Sisters of St Paul de Charters Congregation have provided 96 Burmese children with their basic need in accordance with the UN Charter on the Rights of Children," said Fr. Matthew Manop Phongla-eead, rector of Stigmatine Congregation in Ranong.

Fr Warunyu Laobunma of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish Church heads the relief project that provides the 96 children with education, food and the hygiene.

"Every day, the children are brought to our centre. Here, Brother Moses, a seminarian from Myanmar, who is preparing to be a diocesan priest, teaches the children Thai and Burmese as well as math," Father Laobunma said. "The children are also learning how to live a simple life with dignity . . . not to steal, tell a lie, etc."

"The Burmese community is very poor," he added. "Each family has at least five or six children living in one room. Most of them earn a living as daily labourers or fishermen making anywhere between a 1,000 and 5,000 baht (US$ 25 to 125) a month."

The children are growing up rummaging in the garbage dumb, looking for things that might still be 'useful'. The girls are instead are offered money for 'sexual services'," he lamented.

When the next school year begins in May, the relief team plans to send send 20 of the 96 children to public schools paying for their school fees, books, uniform, etc. However,

Enrolment in Catholic schools is impossible because it is against the National Security Law.

Even if they do go to public schools, the children will only get a letter certifying they attended school but no official diploma as the other children because they have no identity papers indicating their true nationality.

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