Asia Rights

Journal of Human Rights, Media and Society in Asia and the Pacific

Fire at Myanmar refugee camp, Thailand, leaves thousands homeless –NGO consortium


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This July 2008 photo shows an ethnic Karen student learning English at a school in Mae La camp, near the Thai-Myanmar border in Mae Sot district, Tak province, 600 km (373 miles) north of Bangkok. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Thousands of refugees from Myanmar have been made homeless after a fire raging through a refugee camp in Tak province in northwest Thailand burned down over 1,000 houses on Thursday, a consortium of aid agencies told AlertNet.

Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), whose staff are at the site, has received reports of some children suffering burns. As yet there have been no reports of any major casualties.

The fire broke out around noon local time at Umpiem Mai, one of the nine refugee camps located along the Thai-Myanmar border, and which housed some 17,600 people, said Sally Thompson, deputy executive director of TBBC.

The blaze was still raging when AlertNet spoke to Thompson three hours after it first broke out, and had consumed over a third of the camp, including three mosques and two nursery schools.

“It’s still out of control,” Thompson told AlertNet over the phone from the border town of Mae Sot in Tak province.

“You’re looking at about 6,500 people or at least a third of the camp population who have lost their houses.”

Patients have been evacuated from the clinic into one of the food warehouses.

TBBC, a consortium of 12 international agencies aiding refugees and displaced people from Myanmar, said it will be launching an emergency appeal.

The cause of the fire is not yet known although it is believed to have started from within the camp, which is crowded and located in a gusty valley, Thompson said.

“At the rate the fire is going, we’re going to have to do significant rebuilding of the camp because many people will now be homeless,” she said.

“It’s going to take a lot of effort to rebuild the whole community again. That would take time. We just hope the fire can be contained before it sweeps through the whole camp.”

The refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border house more than 140,000 people from Myanmar who fled Myanmar due to economic hardship, abuses and discrimination, and fighting between the army and ethnic armed groups. Many have been living in the camps for decades.

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