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Thai villagers say foreigners get priority for aid

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/tsunami/story/0,15671,1382093,00.html Villagers say foreigners get priority Jonathan Watts in Ban Nam Khem Sunday January 2, 2005 The
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2005
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      Villagers say foreigners get priority

      Jonathan Watts in Ban Nam Khem
      Sunday January 2, 2005
      The Observer

      Since he lost his wife, his sister, his home and the
      fishing boat that was his livelihood last Sunday,
      Surin Chootham has been waiting for his government to
      help him.

      But to his increasing frustration, the injured boatman
      - who has lost the use of his legs - believes that the
      Thai authorities are more concerned about recovering
      the bodies of rich foreigners than supporting their
      own poor compatriots.

      For a week he, his three young children and dozens of
      other refugees have been living in makeshift tents
      outside Takuapa hospital in Phang Nga, the worst
      affected area in Thailand.

      They are given donations of food, water and clothes,
      but Surin is still waiting for an operation to remove
      the debris that has been lodged in his chest since his
      boat broke apart under the wave. He says that the
      doctors - like the government - are too busy looking
      after the 'farang' (foreigners) to care for him.

      'I cannot stand on my own two feet. I feel so sad and
      helpless waiting for the government to assist me. Not
      one official has come to see me.'

      It is an increasingly common complaint in this part of
      the country, where sympathy for the foreign victims is
      mixed with resentment at the priority treatment they
      are given. Although the tsunami hit rich and poor
      alike, its aftermath has highlighted the sharp
      divisions between affluent foreign tourists and poor
      local villagers.

      Questions have focused on the choice of priorities in
      the clear-up operation and search for bodies. Hundreds
      of police and volunteers were swiftly mobilised to
      sift through the ruins of the Khao Lak resort, which
      is where most of the foreigners died. But while they
      have been working for days alongside a small convoy of
      earth-movers and tractors in that area, just 30
      kilometres north the equally devastated - but entirely
      poor and Thai - community of Ban Nam Khem has been
      left virtually untouched. More than 5,000 people lived
      in the village, many of whom are thought to be buried
      in the mud that covered most of the homes.

      While the focus is on recovery rather than
      recrimination, complaints have started to surface.
      Thawee Paepei, one of the biggest fishing operators
      near Khao Lak, suffered heavy damage to his fleet of
      50 vessels. 'Hundreds of officials were sent to the
      affected tourist destination, but none of them came
      here to rescue our fishing trawlers,' he said.

      On an individual level, the disaster has prompted acts
      of remarkable charity and selflessness among Thais,
      who have contributed generously in terms of money,
      supplies and time. Many, including pop stars and
      reportedly even the Prime Minister's wife, Khunying
      Potjaman Shinawatra, are scouring the beaches for
      bodies and helping with forensic work in the

      Even so, the exodus of foreigners, their relatively
      high-level medical treatment and the focus on their
      needs have prompted a perception among many Thais that
      the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is
      unfairly giving priority treatment to foreigners
      because it is so dependent on the tourist trade.

      'There has been a huge effort to support foreigners,
      yet nothing yet for locals,' said Ali Theeranuch
      Saweangphon, a tour guide who has spent the past week
      taking visitors around hospitals and mortuaries.

      'Thaksin is just concerned about his international
      image. There is nothing wrong with helping foreigners,
      but everyone should be treated equally.'
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