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UNHCR MOURNS LOSS OF LIFE AS FIRES RAZE TWO THAILAND CAMPS

UNHCR is unloading plastic sheets at Camp Committee office in Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp for onward distribution to the affected refugees

 

An elderly refugee from Myanmar has died and several others are injured after fire broke out in two refugee camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border last weekend.

The first incident occurred on Friday afternoon in Mae La camp in western Thailand’s Tak province, leaving one refugee badly burnt. Some 130 homes were destroyed in the country’s largest refugee camp, home to 40,000 mainly Karen refugees from Myanmar.

The fire also burnt down a school and boarding house in Mae La camp. There were no casualties as it was a school holiday.  Eleven unaccompanied and separated children who lived in the boarding house are now staying at a nearby house.

The second fire started on Saturday afternoon in Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in Mae Hong Son province, northern Thailand. A 70-year-old woman was killed as she was trapped in her home. A young man who was slightly injured has been given first aid treatment. Some 35 homes and community structures were damaged.

In total, some 850 refugees were directly affected by the two separate incidents. The causes of both fires are unknown and will require further investigation.

“We are deeply saddened by these tragedies,” said the UN refugee agency’s Representative in Thailand, Mireille Girard. “UNHCR is working with the government and other humanitarian partners to provide immediate relief to the victims and to help them back on their feet.”

In Mae La camp, UNHCR has distributed 200 plastic sheets, 200 blankets and 200 plastic mats. The International Organization for Migration has transported blankets provided by the Karen Refugee Committee. The district office is providing water and cooked meals for the affected refugees.

In Ban Mai Nai Soi camp, UNHCR, local authorities and aid agencies such as The Border Consortium, the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees are distributing plastic sheets, blankets, pillows, mosquito nets, clothing, cooking utensils, stoves and food to survivors who are now living with friends and relatives in the camp. The district office is coordinating the overall response while the camp committee is coordinating all assistance.

Last weekend’s fires were not the first to affect Thailand’s refugee camps this year. In March, a massive blaze in Ban Mae Surin camp of Mae Hong Son province killed more than 30 refugees and left more than 2,000 others homeless.

“We fear that more fires could break out as we have not reached the peak of the dry season yet,” said UNHCR’s Girard. “After the March tragedy, the annual trainings in fire prevention and response were intensified, but fires continue to happen and can be hard to control as the camps are densely populated and are surrounded by vast forests.”

Some 130,000 Myanmar refugees are currently living in nine border camps run by the government in Thailand.