Forgotten Burmese Victims of Tsunami Rebuild Thai Resorts
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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Forgotten Burmese Victims of Tsunami Rebuild Thai Resorts

By Alisa Tang/AP Writer/Takua Pa, Thailand Monday, June 27, 2005


Migrant workers from Burma were the cheap labor that built Thai resorts where 2,000 foreign tourists died in the tsunami. Now, they're rebuilding bungalows and hotels on this splendid beach to lure back tourists.

Despite their economic role, they say they have become forgotten victims of the disaster—having received little or no aid from either Thailand or their own government in Burma. As foreign governments helped Thailand in the frantic search for tsunami victims, nobody looked for these Burma workers, an estimated 1,000 to 7,000 of whom perished. The laborers say they watched from their shanties and cinder block homes as food and supplies were handed out to their Thai neighbors.

(AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)“When I come here to help do construction work for them (the Thais), I make them happy, but when something happens to me, they don't help me,” 56-year-old Aung Than said, holding two photos of his son and nephew, who were killed in the tsunami along with his niece. Only the body of his nephew was found, while the other two are still missing.

About 5,400 people died in the tsunami along Thailand's Andaman Sea coast, half of them foreigners.

Some officials believe as many as 1,000 of the migrants died, but the exact number may never be known because of the large number of undocumented workers. Many migrants also refused to go to official mortuaries to identify their colleagues, fearing police would arrest them for not having work permits.

The Tsunami Action Group, a non-profit organization that helps migrant workers from Burma puts the number of dead Burmese at 6,000 to 7,000. Before the tsunami, there were more than 31,000 Burmese workers registered in Phang Nga province, north of the resort island of Phuket. After, it fell to 23,000, the Tsunami Action Group said, but added the actual number of may be twice that because many workers are illegal.

The reconstruction boom in the Khao Lak resort area on Phang Nga's coast makes the area look like a city being built from scratch. Earning about US $3 to US $6 (euro2.50 to euro5) for a day's work, the Burmese comprise a majority of the labor, living in temporary shelters behind the luxury resorts they are building.

Aung Than and his co-workers described the inequality of tsunami aid on a lunch break at their corrugated metal shanties. Among them was a small, sinewy 13-year-old boy who earned 100 baht (US $2.50; euro2) a day mixing and transporting cement.

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