Fresh visa headaches for aid workers

YANGON, 29 June 2009 (IRIN) – Securing Myanmar visas for international aid workers is again proving problematic more than a year after Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 140,000 people and affected another 2.4 million.

After Nargis struck, Myanmar’s military-led government initially hesitated to allow in large numbers of aid workers, but that all changed on 30 May 20008 with the establishment of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG).

The TCG – comprising the government, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the UN – has been instrumental in facilitating nearly 2,000 visa applications over the past year, with a fast-track process for workers involved in cyclone relief efforts.

But in March 2009 the government reverted to the pre-Nargis system, requiring international aid workers to apply directly to their respective line ministries, which in turn would submit their applications to the Foreign Affairs Policy Committee (FAPC), which handles all visa applications.

More than 200 visa applications are now pending with the FAPC. “We understand they (the FAPC) meet once a week, but it’s not enough to process the backlog,” Thierry Delbreuve, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Yangon, told IRIN on 29 June.
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