Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fires in two refugee camps in Thailand leave 600 homeless; IRC responds


SangOver 100 homes were destroyed in a fire that blazed through the Mae La refugee camp on Dec. 27. Photo: Suchart phaijit/IRC
The International Rescue Committee is assisting some 600 Burmese refugees who were left homeless after fires broke out in two refugee camps in Thailand last week. At least one person was killed, several injured and over 100 houses were destroyed.

On December 27, a fire broke out in the Mae La camp in Tak Province near the border with Myanmar (also known as Burma). The camp is home to over 46,000 mostly ethnic Karen refugees. The next day a fire erupted in the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp, in Mae Hong Son province, which is home to some 13,000 mostly Karenni refugees. 

“We are saddened by this tragedy which has displaced so many people,” said Christine Petrie, the director of IRC programs in Thailand. “This is a sad reminder of the refugees’ vulnerable living conditions. Families lost all their possessions in a matter of minutes.”
The charred ruins of homes in the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp. Refugees' houses are made from bamboo with thatched roofs, and fire can spread quickly. Photo: Supak Charoenpornkul/IRC


The IRC provides healthcare, water and other services to refugees in nine camps located on the Thailand-Myanmar border. After the fires, the IRC distributed mosquito nets, cooking utensils, hygiene articles and other essential items to displaced refugees, most of whom are now staying with friends and relatives. 

“We are doing everything we can to swiftly respond to the needs of those who lost their homes," Petrie said. “An IRC health team is visiting each displaced family to provide counseling. Our legal assistance team is also working with the Thai authorities to help identify displaced families and to assist with interpretation and interviewing witnesses in order to reveal the cause of the fires.” 

Refugees live in houses made from bamboo with thatched roofs and once a fire erupts, it can spread fast. Last March, a blaze at the Ban Mae Surin camp killed 37 people and left 2,300 people homeless. 

“The next step will be to clear the debris and help the residents rebuild their homes,” Petrie said. “This was indeed a tragic end to 2013.”