Burmese refugees face 'critical' Christmas

By agency reporter
November 13, 2008

Thousands of refugees from Burma face a critical time this Christmas following Cyclone Nargis and volatile food prices.

The warning comes from Christmas Bowl, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia, which has worked for over 20 years to support hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees who have fled to camps on the Thailand-Burma border in an effort to escape the horror of the persecution imposed by a brutal and violent military Junta.

The suffering of the people of Burma became even greater in 2008, when Cyclone Nargis devastated the lives of those living in the Irrawaddy Delta, the main rice production region of the country.

Saw Ler Lah, a survivor who sought refuge in the already under-resourced border camps following the Cyclone, explains: “I said to the people in my village to take shelter in the church. We stayed there throughout the night and listened to the cyclone. When we came out in the morning, everything was gone.”

In addition to this disaster, the global food price crisis brought further suffering to the already impoverished people of Burma.

Sally Thompson, Deputy Director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) said “we are in a critical time because of the global food crisis and the cyclone in Burma.” These problems cannot be ignored as the health and well being of 140,000 refugees is at stake.

Thompson said of Cyclone Nargis: “It has brought many issues to a head at the same time. We have to be flexible to deal with the emergency inside the country; at the same time we have to remain open to the fact that Burma is still generating new arrivals of refugees…If we do not get a certain amount of dollars, we will have no choice but to cut the ration.”

Many Australians have been drawn into Burma’s tragic narrative as more have come to recognise the inhumane situation in which their close neighbours live.

This year, the Christmas Bowl hopes to provide food, shelter and income generating activities to more than 5000 Burmese refugees.

The price of rice has more than doubled in the wake of Cyclone Nargis and the global food crisis in Burma.

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