Tuesday, December 31, 2013

UN fears more fires at Thai refugee camps after fatal blaze

Bangkok (Alliance News) - The United Nations refugee agency on Monday said it was concerned for the safety of refugees on the Thailand-Myanmar border, after fires broke out at two refugee camps.

An elderly woman died in one of the weekend's fires, which affected hundreds of people.

"We are deeply saddened by these tragedies," said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Thailand, Mireille Girard.

"We fear that more fires could break out as we have not reached the peak of the dry season yet."

In March, more than 30 refugees died and 2,000 others were left without shelter by a blaze that ripped through another camp in northern Thailand.

Girard said fire prevention and response training was intensified after that, "but fires continue to happen and can be hard to control as the camps are densely populated and are surrounded by vast forests."

The causes of the latest fires are not yet known, and are being investigated by authorities.

About 850 refugees were directly affected, the UNHCR said. Together with aid agencies and local authorities, it is distributing essentials such as blankets, clothing, food and mosquito nets to those affected.

Around 130,000 Myanmar refugees, mainly from the Karen ethnic group, live in nine camps across the border in Thailand.