Aid workers still being denied Burma visas

July 3, 2009 (DVB), Aid workers attempting to enter Burma are experiencing increasing difficulties in obtaining visas following a change in protocol which gives sole authority on visa applications for aid workers to the Burmese government.

The ruling junta in Burma was roundly condemned following cyclone Nargis last May, when international aid workers trying to access the worst-affected parts of the Irrawaddy delta were denied entry.

Following the criticism, decisions over aid visas were put to the Tripartite Core Group (TCG), comprising Burma, the UN and the Associaiton of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which formed four weeks after the cyclone.

Now, however, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) say that international aid workers are again being denied visas, following the government's reversion to the pre-Nargis system.

On Monday a helicopter pilot working for a UN relief agency was refused a visa after having waited for one in Thailand for more than three weeks.

"The helicopter was temporarily suspended for some days this week, awaiting visa for the pilot," said a UN spokesperson.

There are reportedly around 200 visas being considered by the government's Foreign Affair Policy Committee, which now handles visa applications.

Aid for the delta region remains crucial, with the UN estimating that Burma receives annually only $US4 per capita in Official Development Assistance.

Similarly, the need for relief workers is critical, more a year after the cyclone hit.

"There are many problems there" said Mahn Mahn, from the Emergency Assistance Team (EAT), a Thailand-based relief organization that regularly works in the delta region.

The UN estimated that $US691 million dollars in post-cyclone recovery aid is required for the period 2009 to 2011.

As well as problems related to food and shelter, children in the areas worst hit by Nargis have little access to education, largely because "[parents] do not have any money to send their children to school," according to Mahn Mahn.

The TCG released a statement on Tuesday saying that 257 schools in the delta "are in dire need of reconstruction", with "some children still [having] to learn under temporary shelters in the raining season".

Cyclone Nargis battered the southern coast of Burma in May last year, leaving some 140,000 dead and 2.4 million destitute.

Reporting by Daniella Nayu

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