Thailand to pay for tsunami memorial trips

The anniversary of the tsunami will be commemorated in Thailand by memorial ceremonies and many relatives of the foreign victims are likely to want to take part. Thailand will cover their travel costs, the country's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced on Tuesday.

“We are going to invite the nearest relatives to those who were killed or injured, and pay for their flights and hotels, so that they can see that we are ready to welcome back tourists,” said Thaksin before a special government meeting in Phang Nga province, which was badly affected by the waves.

“This is news to us – a massive surprise,” said Birgitta Darrell of the Council for Tsunami Catastrophe Support and Coordination, to TT.

The Swedish government has set aside 8.6 million kronor in travel contributions for the victims’ nearest relatives to attend the two Swedish memorial services on the 4th and 11th of November in Thailand.

In total, 837 relatives have applied for the funding, but many will be refused. Priority is given to the children and partners of those who died, then to parents and finally to siblings. Other near-relations do not qualify.

Birgitta Darrell told TT that she would have to find out more about the Thai offer before she was able to say how it would affect the Swedish funding.

“I need to have a think about the consequences of this. There’s nobody in the council who begrudges any relatives this money, but I must have more facts,” she said.

Sweden’s ambassador to Thailand, Jonas Hafström, tried to find out more on Tuesday.

“What we understand is that the Thai government is inviting the closest relatives of those who were injured or killed. We don’t know yet about the smallprint,” he said.

“We have asked but it could take a little time to get an answer – though at the same time it’s in Thailand’s interests to get the details out as soon as possible.”

Prime Minister Thaksin also stated that Thailand had already paid for the home trips and healthcare of all foreign tsunami survivors, as well as a large part of the costs of sending home the dead.

“That must be a misunderstanding,” said Åsa Arvidsson at Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

She said that the Swedish government had paid out a total of around 150 million kronor to cover the cost of flying home Swedes who were affected by the catastrophe. Thailand paid for all care which was given at the public hospitals, as well as transport from Phuket to Bangkok, and food, clothing and shelter at Bangkok airport.

“But Sweden paid for all transport from Thailand to Sweden, transport of the deceased and healthcare and private clinics,” said Arvidsson.

Almost 5,400 people died in the tsunami in Thailand alone. Around half of those were foreign tourists. 515 Swedes have so far been identified, of which 105 were children.

TT/The Local

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