Cyclone survivors travel on a fishing boat from the cyclone devastated city of Bogalay, 125 km (78 miles) southwest of Rangoon in the Irrawaddy delta. (Photo: AP /Myanmar NGO Group)
By SAW YAN NAING
The Irrawaddy News
“I came to Thailand because the situation back in the Irrawaddy delta was becoming critical,” said cyclone survivor Ma Win. “We had received no aid. My child was seriously sick and suffering from diarrhea. I was ill too; we only had boiled rice to eat for three days.”
As soon as he heard about the disaster, Ma Win’s husband left Thailand where he was working and headed home to Laputta to look for his wife and six-month-old son. They had survived the cyclone, but their house was destroyed. He immediately decided to take them back with him to Mae Sot on the Thai-Burmese border.
They traveled for nearly two days by bus, truck and foot and had to pay soldiers 500 kyat (US $0.43) at each army checkpoint along the road to Mae Sot. They arrived on May 7. Ma Win and her baby are now receiving care and are regaining their strength.
Ma Win is among some 100 Burmese cyclone victims who have arrived recently in Mae Sot, which borders the Burmese town of Myawaddy.
Mahn Mahn, a team leader for the Backpack Health Worker Team, a medical relief group that has been assisting the new arrivals, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday: “The cyclone victims are arriving separately—nearly 100 people so far. Some are from the Irrawaddy delta and some are from Rangoon. If they didn’t lose their parents, they lost their sons or daughters.”
Among the cyclone victims who have arrived recently are orphans. Some are currently sheltering at the Mae La refugee camp, at Dr Cynthia’s Mae Tao clinic or in the Backpack office. Others are staying with relatives and friends in Mae Sot town, said sources.
“Some came here in the hope they would receive aid, said Mahn Mahn. “Most people have no plan. Some will stay here wherever they can. Others say they will look for jobs here in Mae Sot.”
The newcomers mostly came from disaster hard-hit regions such as Kungyangone and Hlaing Tharyar in Rangoon division and Laputta, Myaung Mya and Ngapudaw in the Irrawaddy delta, according to sources in Mae Sot.
Tin Shwe, who works at the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, said that 49 new arrivals are now staying in the clinic and more refugees are expected.
Burmese social workers, such as Mar Mar Aye, are counseling the newcomers and providing some financial support.
Meanwhile, Thailand-based labor rights groups, Action Network for Migrants (Thailand) and the Mekong Migration Network, released a joint letter of appeal to the Thai government on June 4 saying requesting help for the cyclone victims while stressing: “The people of Burma will only migrate to Thailand if there is no other means of survival.”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Adisorn Kerdmongkol, from the Action Network for Migrants, said, “If the survivors and the farmers cannot cultivate their land, I think most of them will migrate to Thailand.”
The labor rights groups sent the joint letter of appeal to the Thai ministries of the interior, labor and social development and human security, calling for Thai authorities to allow Burmese migrants to return home to visit families who were affected by the cyclone, but then be allowed to return to Thailand.
The groups also urged the Thai government to ensure that the Burmese military authorities provide full protection to the cyclone victims in terms of shelter, food, medical care, reconstruction and restoration of livelihoods.