Sea gypsies still seeking justice

Sea gypsies still seeking justice

Ethnic groups known as sea gypsies living along Andaman Sea coastal areas have asked the government to pass the Ethnic Groups Protection Act.

"Despite the cabinet a decade ago passing a motion to restore and protect the traditional life of sea gypsies, real progress has not been made," Saengsoem Harntalay, representative of Urak Lawoi, a tribe of sea gypsies living in Koh Lipe, said on Sunday at a seminar held in Phuket.

"It is about time the government passed an act that can realise the cabinet's policies."

On June 2, 2010, cabinet approved a policy to restore the livelihood of sea gypsies.

The policy prescribes action plans on land disputes, settlements, nationalities, education, cultural identity as well as traditional fisheries.

"The law will help to highlight the protection of sea gypsies and turn policies into actions," Ms Saengsoem said.

"Ethnic people need special laws to help reduce inequality."

The seminar -- titled "10 Year Anniversary of Cabinet Motion to Restore Life of Sea Gypsies" -- was attended by officials and 500 representatives from three ethnic tribes: Moken, Urak Lawoi, and Moklen.

The tribal groups have been living along the Andaman Sea's coastal areas for about three centuries.

There are about 12,000 sea gypsies living in five provinces -- Ranong, Phuket, Phangnga, Krabi, and Satun provinces.

Their livelihoods have changed for the worse since the tsunami in 2004. After many villagers were forced to relocate, some investors began to claim ownership by presenting title deeds to the courts which they said were authorised by the Land Department.

There are several land disputes pending in court.

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