Sunday, January 13, 2008

UK health, child aid to Burma doubles

By Supalak G Khundee

The United Kingdom will double humanitarian aid to Burma this year despite the difficulties in providing such assistance in the military-ruled country, a senior British official said.

The assistance will be increased from ฃ9 million (Bt520 million) last year to ฃ18 million this year, UK Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander, who was in Thailand to visit Burmese refugees along the border, said yesterday.

Alexander visited the largest refugee camp of Mae La on the Thai-Burmese border in Tak province, which shelters more than 40,000 refugees.

"As the leading donor, I want to understand the scale of the challenge and capacity of aid agencies on the ground in the region who provide support to Burmese who have fled from the military regime," he said after a visit to the camp on Thursday.

The additional assistance from the UK will help more children to have basic education and treat more people who are facing the threat of malaria, tuberculosis and Aids, he said.

The assistance will go through international agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme, Unicef and some NGOs like Save The Children, rather than through the military regime, he said.

International pressure and the political situation in Burma make humanitarian assistance inside the junta-ruled country very difficult, he added but said agencies such as the UN had experience working in challenging environments.

Alexander said he had met several refugees, both ones who had lived in the camp since 1984 and ones who had arrived a few months ago.

Some of them told him their tragic stories of rape, forced labour, violence and severe political pressure that had caused them to flee.

However, the British official said he was impressed with the management of the refugee camp by NGOs such as the Thai-Burma Border Consortium as well as healthcare facilities run by Dr Cynthia Maung.

Source: The Nation

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