Suicide Attempts in Refugee Camp Linked to Drug and Alcohol Abuse

By Saw Yan Naing 7 March 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A growing number of suicide cases in a Burmese refugee camp in Mae La, Thailand has raised concerns with camp authorities.

Saw Honest, the chairman of Mae La camp which hosts around 40,000 refugees, told The Irrawaddy that there were 54 reported suicide attempts in 2016, in which the majority died.

“It is alarming, so we tried to find out what was behind it,” said Saw Honest.

Community leaders and camp authorities said alcohol and drug abuse were key factors in the rise, along with cases of domestic violence.

Saw Honest said between 20 and 30 of the cases were tied to domestic violence, brought on by drug and alcohol abuse.

Camp authorities said the most commonly abused substance was alcohol, but methamphetamines and marijuana were used as well, despite drug and alcohol use being banned in camps along the Thai-Burma border. Mae La is situated in Thailand’s Tak Province near the Thai town of Mae Sot, where authorities say drugs and alcohol are traded.

There are nine refugee camps along the border, with Mae La reporting the highest number of attempted suicides.

Naw Blooming Night Zar, a spokesperson for the Karen Refugee Committee (KRC), told The Irrawaddy that the victims are both men and women, old and young—and that most of the suicide attempts occur in the camp’s Zone B.

Naw Blooming Night Zar said depression and underage marriage were additional causes.

“We educate the refugees in hopes of preventing these attempts. We organize forums and show educational videos to raise awareness,” she said.

Camp leaders have said that in their opinion, resettlement is not a leading cause of suicide, but that drugs and alcohol are the pertinent issues.

The KRC along with other community-based organizations such as the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) have provided education and awareness training.

Blooming Night Zar said two suicide cases have been reported thus far in 2017—one in Mae La camp and another in Mae Ra Ma Luang camp in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province.