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Issue No: 173
January 9, 2003

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Tsunami victims prey to crime
from Asia to Europe

Thieves, rapists, kidnappers and hoaxers are preying on tsunami survivors and families of victims in Asian refugee camps and hospitals and in the home countries of European tourists hit by the wave. Reports and warnings came in from as far apart as Britain, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Hong Kong of criminals taking advantage of the chaos to rape survivors in Sri Lanka or plunder the homes of European tourists reported missing. In stark contrast to a worldwide outpouring of humanitarian aid in response to the Dec. 26 tsunami, whose death toll stood at nearly 145,000 people, a women's group in Sri Lanka said rapists were preying on homeless survivors. "We have received reports of incidents of rape, gang rape, molestation and physical abuse of women and girls in the course of unsupervised rescue operations and while resident in temporary shelters," the Women and Media Collective group said.

Save the Children warned that youngsters orphaned by the tsunami were vulnerable to sexual exploitation. In Thailand thieves disguised as police and rescue workers have looted luggage and hotel safes around Khao Lak beach, where the tsunami killed up to 3,000 people. Sweden sent seven police officers there to investigate the reported kidnap of a Swedish boy of 12 whose parents were carried off by the wave.

Sweden is the hardest hit country outside the tsunami region with more than 2,500 missing and 52 confirmed dead. But it kept their names secret after some homes were targetted by thieves. "It is unfortunately a reality that people who are known to be missing ... have had their homes gone through and partly emptied," State Secretary Lars Danielsson told local radio. Swedish police could not give details of such break-ins but said similar incidents of looting had occurred after the 1994 sinking of the Estonia, which killed 551 Swedes. "That is the reason that we are now so careful about distributing the names this time," a police spokeswoman said. Police said a man had been arrested for sending hoax emails to people who had placed appeals for information about relatives and friends on a television website. The hoaxer claimed to have information from the "Foreign Office Bureau" in Thailand. In Hong Kong, where people are chipping in generously to the relief effort, the charity Oxfam warned of a bogus fundraising email that has been circulating in its name, asking people to send donations to a bank account in Cyprus.

Source: Reuters


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