Burmese forced from relief camps
Cyclone refugees are being evicted from shelters, according to Amnesty International. Analysts say the regime is dispersing those who might foment opposition.
Aid agencies trying to help cyclone survivors in Burma (Myanmar) are increasingly bumping up against what appears to be a coordinated government drive to close temporary relief camps in towns and send villagers back home, sometimes by force, to fend for themselves.Skip to next paragraph
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Human rights groups say that forced evictions from relief camps – which include churches, monasteries, schools, and other public buildings – are putting lives at risk and flouting international principles of humanitarian relief. A new report by Amnesty International lists 30 cases since May 19 of forcible removals of thousands of people who sought temporary shelter after last month's cyclone.
"They're being returned to villages and townships that have been devastated, and their right to food, shelter, and medical help is being violated," says Benjamin Zawacki, the author of the report.
Behind the closures is a secretive military junta that fears the presence of foreign aid groups and wants to disperse communities that could foment opposition to its iron-fisted rule, say analysts and Burmese dissidents.
Sending people home also provides a labor force that can be corralled into working for little or no pay. Last week, the International Labor Organization warned that Burma may use forced labor in cyclone reconstruction, as it has on other infrastructure projects in the past.
Closures complicate aid work
Ever since cyclone Nargis pummeled southern Burma a month ago, leaving devastation in its wake, aid agencies have been struggling to reach stricken communities and figure out how and where to send assistance.
At least 134,000 people are listed as dead or missing, though exiled Burmese opposition groups say the death toll is likely to be much higher.
As in other natural disasters, ad hoc relief camps have become vital distribution points for food and medical services. About 260,000 people have sought temporary shelter, out of more than half a million people who have left their homes, according to United Nations estimates. Some are in government-run tent cities that have been shown off to visiting donors.
Aid workers say the closure of town shelters is likely to compound the challenge of providing aid, on top of the already stifling controls imposed on foreign aid groups. These controls have loosened slightly since UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon visited Burma two weeks ago, but relief agencies are still dogged by bureaucratic obstacles.
The US military is withdrawing four warships that have circled off the Burmese coast for weeks, waiting to deliver cyclone aid.
Humanitarian workers have warned of a second wave of deaths from malnutrition and disease in remote, waterlogged corners of the Irrawaddy Delta that have received little or no assistance.