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Refugees forcibly removed from monasteries in Bogalay

May 12, 2008 (DVB), An aid worker in Bogalay, Irrawaddy division, said cyclone victims have been forced out of monasteries where they were taking shelter and are suffering severe shortages of food and medicines.

The aid worker described the situation in Bogalay and the challenges facing the relief effort.

"There are many refugees in Bogalay. They are living in every monastery. I went to four and found more than 3000 people. Some of them are going to Ma-Upin where are five places [refugee camps]. Some have been taken to Ma-Upin forcibly as they didn't want to go there. [In some cases] the husband was taken and the wife left behind, or the child was taken away, or the husband was left behind."

DVB: How were they taken away? In army trucks?

"Yes, in cars, forcibly taken. Some were told not to stay in the monastery. They told them to follow them or to go back to their village. The refugees are on the riverbanks outside the monasteries. They are not letting them stay , they are following the army’s orders."

DVB: You saw 3000 in Bogalay alone, is that right?

"Yes. They are badly wounded, and there is no medicine. As for food, they don't even have enough rice gruel – one bowl for 3 to 4 people."

DVB: Aren't the authorities helping to provide food?

"No, but they are selling it to local people at 800 kyat for one pyi, There are about 80 people in a monastery and they don’t have any breakfast. In the evening, private donors come to give rice gruel."

DVB: Aren't local people feeding them?

"Yes, they do, but they also have problems, what I mean is they were harassed by the authorities. They are being followed and watched a little bit."

DVB: What is the situation like in Bogalay?

"[The donors] can go to some monasteries but not to others. Refugees have been forcibly taken away. They couldn’t do that in some monasteries as the local people prevented them."

DVB: As there are not sufficient medicines, what kinds of diseases are people suffering from?

"Boils, diarrhoea, cholera and that's all."

DVB: As far as I know, about 100 people or more have diarrhoea and cholera. Aren't doctors or medics giving them any medicine?

"Nothing. To tell the truth, after we took a corpse to the hospital's mortuary, that same corpse was found in the river, There is no medical care for pregnant women. I saw two of them die. People were not accepted [by the hospital] and were turned away."

DVB: What are conditions like for the local people?

"The main problem is water. Water is not at all pure. There are one or two ponds or reservoirs of pure water. Some ponds are filled with leaves and dirty things and not suitable for consumption. But people do drink it. It is impossible to survive. The government is giving people no support. There are 120 villages [affected], as far as I know."

DVB: Have some people returned to their villages from Bogalay?

"In some villages, only 40 or 50 people have survived in a village of 300 to 400. They are trying to find food, medicine and water on their own. There is no support."

DVB: In these cases, how are they surviving?

"They are sharing what they have, giving priority to children. But if things carry on like this, they will not last more than a couple of days, there are many people suffering from cholera. The water is not clean and there is nothing to eat. And when they drink what they do have their stomach bloats."

DVB: Have foreign aid workers arrived in Bogalay?

"No. As far as I know one private car arrived. It was not allowed in and when we local residents went to pick them up, we were told to give [the authorities] a third [of the aid], When we gave things [to victims], we also had to 'donate' some [to the authorities]."

DVB: Who was it who demanded one third of the aid?

"They were people waiting at the entrance of Bogalay, , the army, and some civilians but I don't know who they are. I am sure they are the army and the police. Shops in Bogalay would not sell things to strangers, I heard that aid has arrived but I have seen no distribution yet."

DVB: Why not?

"They said they were waiting for orders from above, one army officer told me. Some materials were in the mosque including engines for boats but I haven't seen them use them yet. Only local people are donating; Christian and Buddhist organisations are helping people, and private organisations and NGOs are donating."

DVB: Are other people who were not affected by the storm in other parts of Burma – rich people, company bosses – giving sacks of rice and other goods?

"Yes, a little bit. But it is like throwing sesame seeds into the mouth of an elephant. In Bogalay, it is very hard to survive, very difficult to travel even. Give us food. Give us water. We even don't have clothes to wear. People are badly wounded. Some of them are filled with pus. As we are private charity, we have to make do with what we have. We are using all medicines, traditional and western. It is not sufficient.

"As for food, we only have a small amount and we can't feed this number of people. It is impossible to get to other places, I dare not go to some areas, rivers are filled with rotten corpses, we can only go to places near Bogalay now.

"We managed to get a list of 80,000 dead in Bogalay alone. They are taken from the survivors. They are accurate lists. We can't get any from families that were wiped out completely."

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