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**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE** COHRE Statement on Burma – 7 May 2008 COHRE calls for urgent action to protect housing rights in response to cyclone in Burma The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) today called on the Burmese regime to immediately allow international relief agencies unrestricted access to Burma, to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the cyclone that hit the country on 2 and 3 May 2008. Although details are still emerging, reports indicate hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless by the cyclone, and currently lack shelter and clean water, in addition to the thousands killed. Reports indicate that an estimated 90,000 people have been left homeless on the island of Haingyi alone. Jean du Plessis, COHRE’s Deputy Director, said, “The time has come for the Burmese regime to allow humanitarian agencies unrestricted access to the country. The basic needs of shelter, water and food of the Burmese people are simply too great.” COHRE called on the Burmese government to immediately repeal all restrictions on humanitarian aid, including restrictions on visa applications for relief workers, customs procedures for relief stocks, and to allow freedom of movement for expatriate relief workers, and free distribution of food supplies. These restrictions on multilateral and independent aid organisations are currently delaying urgent assessment and response mechanisms. In the circumstances, COHRE called for the national referendum on the draft constitution, scheduled for Saturday May 10, to be postponed nationwide. COHRE also expressed concern that the cyclone will lead to more long-term displacement inside Burma. Before the cyclone struck, COHRE estimated that there were already more than a million displaced persons in the country, caused by a combination of conflict and predatory development projects under the current regime. Du Plessis added: “The Burmese regime has a terrible record when it comes to forced displacement and relocation. In other areas affected by disaster, such as Sri Lanka, people have languished in camps for years after the disaster, or have been relocated to inappropriate areas. Under international law, displaced people have a right to return to their homes wherever this is possible. The international community should therefore take steps to ensure that those displaced in Burma will be able to exercise this right when the initial crisis is over.” “This is also an opportunity for the international community to focus on the plight of the estimated one million displaced people inside Burma, and to draw attention to their rights,” said Du Plessis. For further information, contact: Jean du Plessis at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +27 8255 75563. The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) is a Geneva-based Human Rights Organisation, focusing on the right to adequate housing. COHRE’s 2007 publication on housing rights in Burma, Displacement and Dispossession: Forced Migration and Land Rights in Burma, is available at www.cohre.org/burma.
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