Home > Queensland Synod News > Global aid agencies wait for visas to aid Burma

Global aid agencies wait for visas to aid Burma


Christian organizations throughout the world are calling for aid and support for the stricken people of Myanmar (Burma) of whom about 62 000 are believed to have lost their lives due to a typhoon.

But the United Nations suspended relief supplies there on 9 May after the military government seized food and equipment that had been sent. In reports from some Burmese residents there were accounts that said normal commercial operations had come to a halt and that criminals are capitalising on the situation in some areas.

Myanmar’s military junta was quoted by The Associated Press as saying it was prepared to accept disaster relief from the rest of the world, but that it did not want outside relief workers coming in. It is not only Western countries that have urged Myanmar to accept relief, but China, the country’s closest diplomatic ally, has also urged it to accept help, according to news agency reports.

Almost one week after a devastating cyclone, people in Myanmar are still waiting for relief which aid workers say is being turned back as it arrives at the airport. Aid organizations say they are also not able to obtain visas for their workers to enter the southeast Asian country.

The Thailand-based Christian Council of Asia said on 9 May it planned to send a staff team to Myanmar. However, it said, "unfortunately the visas were not available due to the close down of Myanmar embassy for few days".

Ngu Wah Kyaw, who worked as an intern for the World Council of Churches in 2007, wrote to her former colleagues in Geneva from Yangoon, "We also face the water and electricity shortages. It is very difficult to get water to the 4th floor where we live … Many trees have fallen down and the weather is very, very hot.

"We use sticks for fire. The newspaper says it will take one month to get electricity. I can’t go too far because the bus fare is so high and difficult to go from one place to another. Al the people in Yangon are suffering now … If people don’t have money in hand, they can’t do anything … I’ll email you in two or three weeks."

She was responding to messages that churches would support the people of Myanmar. On 6 May, the WCC general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, wrote a letter to the Myanmar Council of Churches saying the "the WCC is committed and ready to contribute in any possible manner to overcome the catastrophic impact of this natural disaster and in alleviating the sufferings of the affected victims in your country".

Kobia said that the WCC-backed humanitarian aid agency, Action by Churches Together (ACT) had initiated a process to mobilise all possible humanitarian assistance to the people in affected areas.

"At the same time I do hope that the Myanmar government will give easy access and provide necessary assistance to international aid workers and humanitarian aid agencies to facilitate relief operations in affected areas in Myanmar," said Kobia.

"It was extremely shocking. People in the delta are poor to begin with. They have lived in plain shacks, which are now destroyed," an ACT member representative reported. "Only buildings made from bricks or wood are left. During the three hours we sailed in the delta, I saw around 30 bodies including children,” said the representative, adding that they also witnessed two mass burials.

"Just next to the corpses, women are standing, washing clothes in the river and fetching water," the representative reported, suggesting that the fear of cholera and other waterborne diseases is great.

The acting general secretary of the Geneva-based Lutheran World Federation, the Rev. Chandran Paul Martin, appealed to the authorities in Myanmar to facilitate the entry and movement of humanitarian assistance so that a larger-scale disaster can be avoided.

"I very much hope and pray that wisdom and compassion will prevail, and that the authorities in Myanmar will remove any unnecessary obstacles to the entry and movement of international humanitarian teams and supplies," said Martin in a letter to the Rev. Jenson R. Andrews, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Myanmar. Martin said the enormity of the disaster would require an international response mirroring that which followed the 2004 Asian tsunami. "Every hour of delay means more suffering," he noted.

UNICEF said in a document made available on 8 May that it had deployed rapid assessment teams to Yangon and the Irrawady area and that it was working with NGOs such as World Vision and Save the Children.

In Scotland, Colin Renwick, convenor of the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council, urged Scottish communities to respond. He said, "The more we hear, the worse it gets. It is difficult to comprehend a disaster on this scale. Surely it is time for everyone to respond as they are able to the relief effort."

Morag Mylne, convenor of the denomination’s Church and Society Council, commented: "The apparent inadequacy of the Burmese Government’s response only reinforces the view that the regime does not govern in the best interests of its people."

The Baptist World Alliance said members of its churches from Australia, Hungary and the United States are currently in Bangkok, in neighbouring Thailand, awaiting visa application approval to enter Myanmar.

Ecumenical News International