NEW DELHI, India – Since August, millions of people in South Asia have been impacted by the region’s worst flood in 40 years. It is reported that around 40 million people are affected by the massive flood.
Over 1,400 have died so far and tens of thousands are living in tents all across the region. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh states in India, the Terai region in Nepal, and Kurigram and Chimari districts in Bangladesh have been hit the worst.
In Bangladesh alone, over 8 million people are affected. It also reported that over 13,000 people are currently suffering from diarrhea and respiratory infections after the flood. According to the Secretary General of the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, diarrhea, malaria and dengue are on the rise in some parts of the country.
In Nepal, around 1.7 million people are affected with 26,844 cases of illness around the country. Although no epidemic has been reported, many health officials are taking extreme caution and monitoring the situation closely.
With the danger of mosquito and waterborne diseases, the risks are said to be greater for children and women. In India, around 17 million children were in need of humanitarian assistance.
Because the floods were so extreme, many families have been struggling to find proper burial grounds due to the lack of dry land.
Recently, the Scottish government donated from the government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund. The money is to provide any immediate and life saving aid in the region.
BANKOK, Thailand — As relief efforts in Thailand attempt to help the millions of people affected by flooding caused by three months of heavy monsoon rains, thousands of devastated migrant workers, mostly from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia face neglect, exploitation and fear.
Though the extent of the damage caused by the flood is still not entirely clear, current estimates put the number of people who have lost their lives at 500 and rising with an additional estimated 650,000 who have been forced to leave their jobs by rising flood waters. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) places the total number of people impacted by the floods as high as 9 million.
Food, water and shelter are largely available for the many evacuated Thais. However, many Thais have opted to stay with relatives or have remained in their homes in order to protect their possessions. As a result, many government shelters have not reached capacity.
Thailand’s largely Burmese migrant population has not fared nearly so well. Many have suggested that the pressing needs of migrants, stranded without food, water or electricity simply isn’t a priority for the authorities as they struggle to rescue thousands of Thais. In Kakhon Pathom outside of Bangkok, an estimated 200-400 Burmese are reportedly taking refuge at the only shelter available to Burmese migrants.
According to the Thai Labor Ministry, nearly 1 million of Thailand’s estimated 2-3 million Burmese migrant workers live in flood affected areas. Aid workers have placed the number of migrants still stranded by flood waters as high as 600,000.
Burmese migrants face a wide range of obstacles when attempting to deal with Thai authorities. According to Jackie Pollock, a spokeswoman for the Mekong Migration Network, one of the largest obstacles often faced by migrants is neglect and discrimination resulting from the authorities’ lack of skilled translators.
Many migrants also face legal problems when they attempt to flee to dryer areas. Flood-affected migrants possess work visas that prohibit them from legally traveling to another province inside Thailand or that become void once the individual leaves the country. Furthermore, a large proportion of Thailand’s migrant workers have been working in the country illegally or claim to have lost their documents in the flood.
As a result, many migrants fleeing to unaffected areas face arrest, imprisonment, deportation and often a ban on future employment inside Thailand. One report claims that as many as 30,000 Burmese seeking to cross the border into Myanmar have been temporarily held in a detention center near the border town of Mae Sot over the past few weeks.
Rather than face the difficulties posed by run-ins with the authorities or the dangers of navigating through swamps and roads submerged under waist-deep, foul-smelling water, hundreds of fearful Burmese migrants have chosen to ride out the flood. Those who remain behind seek refuge in cramped apartment buildings with no electricity, and little or no food, water or medical supplies.
The IRC has expressed concern for the safety of those remaining in flooded areas, citing the potential for the spread of illnesses and other health hazards as a result of contaminated water. The Mekong Migration Network has called for Thailand’s government to alleviate the situation by allowing registered migrant workers to temporarily leave Thailand with an option to return once the situation improves.
In spite of the dangers and difficulties involved, huge numbers of Burmese migrants have fled the flood zone to return home to Myanmar. According to provincial police, on October 29 alone over 10,000 Burmese workers living both legally and illegally in and around Bangkok crossed through the Huay Hin Fon border checkpoint into Myanmar.
Those who decide to return to Myanmar generally face an arduous journey filled with the potential for exploitation at the hands of local mafia and “brokers” who arrange for transportation in exchange for exorbitant fees. Aid workers report that both the Thai and Burmese governments have moved to put a stop to border officials demanding bribes from returning migrants. However, in addition to the costs of reaching the border, many migrants are required to pay fines for visa violations before they make the crossing.
Upon reaching the border, migrants are faced with a processing backlog, which locals claim is due to the fact that the Burmese authorities are only allowing 150 people to cross the border each day.
On the Burmese side of the border, the government has reportedly been providing food, water, transportation and small sums of money to migrants seeking to escape the flood in Thailand. However, reaching Myanmar does not guarantee that a migrant’s plight will improve. Returning migrants must face the possibility of abduction or exploitation at the hands of human traffickers such as the Karen border guard force, a militia associated with the Burmese military.
Thailand’s large Burmese migrant worker population makes up one of the most impoverished segments of Thai society. Funds sent back to Myanmar by migrant workers in Thailand are essential to the welfare of many Burmese families. Aid groups say that the exodus of Burmese migrant workers is likely to have a significant impact on the economies of both countries.