Medecins Sans Frontieres pulls out of Thailand; floods damage Asia's rice crop

Updated On: Oct 07, 2011

Aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has announced it will withdraw its operations in Thailand, after a disagreement with the Thai government over the treatment of migrant workers and unregistered foreigners.

The international medical organisation was forced to close two of its projects earlier this year, one on the outskirts of Bangkok, and another along the Thai border, depriving 55 000 vulnerable people of medical care.

After months of negotiations, MSF released a statement on Thursday saying it has proven impossible to get permission from Thai authorities to continue to provide healthcare to undocumented migrants and vulnerable populations in the country.

"While the organisation will close its permanent project, MSF will still remain alert and ready to respond to emergencies if needs be," said a spokesperson for the organisation.

Another official said that while the Thai authorities were happy for MSF to work on health education and disease prevention, they were not happy with it carrying out primary care.

Despite efforts to register migrants, over one third of Thailand's 3 million migrants, mostly from Myanmar, remain undocumented and are therefore not entitled to state healthcare.

Over the years, Thai authorities have had to walk a fine line between assisting international organisations who provide aid to refugees and trying not to encourage people to make the journey across the border. Earlier this year, the then head of the national security council threatened to close the camps and force the occupants to return to Myanmar. Following the election of Yingluck Shinawatra, this policy is due to be reviewed.

Report: Aid group MSF ends Thailand operations amid row (BBC News, 6 October 2011)

Report: Medical charity pulls out of Thailand (Bangkok Post, 6 October 2011)

Report: Ban on care for migrants forces medical charity out of Thailand  (The Independent, 7 October 2011)

Elsewhere in Thailand and in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, about 1.5million hectares of paddy fields have been damaged or are at risk of the worst floods to hit the region in years, warn experts.

In Thailand, the world's biggest rice exporter, 237 people have died in the floods, and about one million hectares of paddy, approximately 10% of the total, have been damaged.

Experts say a major contributor to this year's floods has been the unusually heavy rains in Thailand and Laos, which drain down through the Mekong delta. The delta's system of dykes have added to the problem. They "prevent water circulation in some places but provoke floods in others," said Bui Minh Tang, a weather forecaster.

The United Nation's chief of disaster reduction, Margareta Wahlstrom said that food prices in the region will rise as a result of the devestation. "The damage is very serious this year and it will be some time before people can resume normal lives," Margareta Wahlstrom, she said in a statement.

Report: Floods drown Asia's rice bowl (AFP, 6 October 2011)

Report: Thai floods kill 224, inundate World Heritage Site (Reuters, 4 October 2011) 

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