Fire Destroys Houses in Mae La Camp on Thai-Burmese Border

By Saw Yan Naing 27 December 2013

A fire broke out Friday afternoon in Mae La camp, the largest Burmese refugee camp across the border in Thailand, destroying more than 100 temporary shelters, said local sources in the camp.

The Mae La camp in Tak Privince is currently home to more than 40,000 Burmese refugees, mostly ethnic Karen people who fled their homes and have been taking shelter in Thai soil for more than two decades.

Schoolteacher Naw Cherry told The Irrawaddy that the fire caused by an electrical fault in wiring at a compound for students in Zone C of the camp’s Section 3. The fire was brought under control after seven fire trucks arrived, she said.

“The fire started at about 2 pm. A friend of mine also lost her house in the blaze. But, it is now under control,” said Naw Cherry.

P’leh Wah Paw, a housewife in Mae La refugee camp, said her neighbors’ houses were completely gone. The fire destroyed the bamboo homes very fast as it was windy, she added.

“I went to run and escape because I have a baby. I couldn’t help my neighbors,” said P’leh Wah Paw, adding that the fire was under control by about 3:30 pm.

Some sources in the camp, however, said that the fire destroyed as many as 170 houses. There are about 300 houses in Zone C, said the residents.

Mae La camp is located about 60 kilometers from the Thai border town of Mae Sot, opposite Myawaddy in Burma. In June 2012, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi paid a visit to Mae La camp, where she was greeted by thousands of refugees.

There are about 140,000 Burmese refugees residing on the Thai-Burmese border in nine refugee camps, the largest being Mae La.

Since 2010, these refugees have come under pressure to return to their homes in Burma as the country opens up. Aid and supplies for these refugees have been reducing or being cut, in what the refugees see as an indirect pressure from the international community, and the Thai government, to return home quickly.