Saturday, July 11, 2009

MALAYSIA NGO gives medical, counseling aid to Myanmar refugees

TANAH RATA, Malaysia (UCAN) -- A Catholic NGO is helping refugees in the mountainous central region of Malaysia who say they are cut off from their loved ones and live in constant fear.
"We are constantly afraid of the security forces and everyone else around us," said Batang, a refugee leader, during a mobile clinic conducted by A Call To Serve (ACTS).
"We have not seen our families in years. When ACTS comes here, it is like our parents visiting us."
Batang, 38, is one of several hundred ethnic Chin people from Myanmar who live in the forests at the mountain ridges around Cameron Highlands, a popular tourist destination and agricultural center.
ACTS, which gives medical aid and other assistance to refugees who have no one to turn to, is the only hope for many.
"It is our only chance of getting any medical attention when we fall sick or get injured," Batang, a Baptist, said during the July 4 clinic.
ACTS sets up mobile clinics in three areas within Cameron Highlands once every two months. It gives free medical and counseling services, as well as food and clothes to the refugees who have settled in the area trying to find work in vegetable plantations.
Doctor Caroline Gunn, a volunteer in her 60s, said most of the medical cases are either anxiety-related or due to exposure to pesticides. Common ailments are headaches, gastritis and skin rashes, she added.
Doctor Gunn left private practice a few years ago to devote herself full-time to serving the refugees. She said that she could not do otherwise, seeing how great the need was.
Most of the Chin refugees are men in their late teens or early 20s who ran away from their homes in northwestern Myanmar to escape persecution.
Teisanglian, 21, for example, said he ran away two years ago after Myanmar soldiers conscripted him into forced labor.
Another refugee, in his 20s, said he ran away with his wife after soldiers threatened to kill him for giving medical care to his own ethnic group.
According to ACTS, apart from fleeing political and economic persecution in Myanmar, these people end up in Malaysia after having been trafficked, or after having fled natural disasters. A refugee settlement in the jungle
There are more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees in the country, according to ACTS director Rosemary Chong.
ACTS also operates a permanent clinic and fortnightly mobile clinics at two detention centers and two convalescent homes in the Kuala Lumpur area. In addition, it conducts periodic mobile clinics in other parts of the country and a monthly food aid program at its center in Petaling Jaya.
Explaining why she started this ministry, Chong said: "The local poor have access to government clinics for free. But the refugees living in the jungles have no access to public health."
"We have to put our faith into action. We have to move the Church to see what is real" in our neighborhood, said the 60-year-old lay Catholic woman, whose simple office is decorated with a Marian statue, religious pictures and Bible verses.
ACTS, which started in 2003 with the help of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), now has eight local full-time staff, more than 20 full-time Myanmar refugee volunteers and around 50 part-time volunteers of various nationalities and religions.

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