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The Asia Foundation Receives World Bank Grant to Implement Legal Aid Services in Post-Tsunami Thailand

Bangkok, February 15, 2006 — $1.8 Million (U.S.) Project Will Provide Critical Support and Launch New Center for Victims and Communities

While some areas in southern Thailand, primarily tourist destinations, have begun to rebuild what was destroyed by the tsunami in December 2004, many survivors continue to struggle with multi-faceted legal barriers that obstruct reconstruction and restitution. The Asia Foundation, the premier non-profit organization devoted to Asia’s development since 1954, announced today a $1.8M grant from the World Bank for an 18-month tsunami legal aid project funded by the Japan Social Development Fund. This grant will enable The Asia Foundation to open a new Tsunami Legal Aid Referral Center in Krabi Province to administer comprehensive legal aid services throughout the tsunami-ravaged southern Thai provinces of Ranong, Phan-gna, Krabi, and Satul.
Land ownership disputes, the identification of assets, inheritance and unemployment issues, and adoptions of orphans are dire problems that continue to plague tsunami survivors in southern Thailand. Through a network of multi-disciplinary experts — lawyers, medical practitioners, social workers, translators, and psychologists — The Asia Foundation will provide tsunami survivors with critical information about their rights, access to government services, legal counsel, and assistance navigating the judicial system.

“Already vulnerable, these tsunami survivors are often unable to articulate their needs to the court, are overwhelmed with procedural requirements, or feel intimidated by the law,” said Dr. James Klein, Country Representative for The Asia Foundation in Thailand. “The result is that many forgo the restitution to which they’re entitled — restitution which could significantly improve their lives and the lives of their families.”

“Our response to the tsunami tragedy in Thailand has been to focus more on the medium-term needs of affected communities and vulnerable populations. Helping people rebuild their lives through access to legal and related support services and at the same time building in ownership, capacity, and participation of local communities by working with The Asia Foundation is key to ‘Build Back Better’ in Thailand,” said Mr. Ian Porter, World Bank Country Director for Thailand.

The Asia Foundation has been the only international organization addressing legal issues and implementing related services for tsunami victims in southern Thailand. More than one year after the tsunami, most survivors remain psychologically and emotionally traumatized, and many have become poorer because of their losses. This new grant from the World Bank will enable the Foundation to both continue and expand its legal aid to tsunami victims.

Many southern Thais affected by the tsunami lack basic legal education and are unfamiliar with their rights under the Constitution. Furthermore, a significant percent are not fluent in the Central Thai dialect used by the judicial system. Under the new project, both individuals and communities will be eligible to receive funds for legal services, hiring translators, and paying for the various costs incurred in representing their case, including funds to travel to court hearings. In addition, money will be made available to victims seeking psychological or medical treatment in order to have the mental or physical capability to seek justice.

This project will facilitate access to justice for hundreds of tsunami survivors and communities by providing them with the funds required by pro bono lawyers to investigate and prepare their cases for litigation and to pursue their cases either in court or through arbitration. Additionally, the project will encourage community building by supporting groups participating in class action lawsuits. To complement the legal aid services, the Foundation will provide civic participation training for community leaders and representatives. These workshops will educate citizens about their rights and how to communicate their needs and wishes effectively to government officials, encouraging active participation in the resolution of legal issues confronting their communities.

Douglas Bereuter, president of The Asia Foundation said, “This award from The World Bank further strengthens The Asia Foundation’s ongoing commitment to tsunami survivors and their families, and will ensure access to qualified legal advice and representation for those in need in Thailand.”

To learn more about The Asia Foundation’s tsunami relief efforts, read about the Foundation’s Post-Tsunami Response.

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