CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A fire at a migrant school in the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot on Wednesday evening injured two students and destroyed four boarding houses.
The fire at the Mae Tao Clinic’s school, the Children’s Development Centre (CDC), founded by Dr. Cynthia Maung, spread from a nearby sugarcane field and quickly destroyed the boarding houses which are situated on the site where new clinic buildings are planned.
“The fire has put more of a burden on us,” said Mann Shwe Hnin, headmaster of the CDC.
As international donors have increasingly sought to target projects inside Burma since the country’s transition to quasi-civilian rule, funding for many border-based groups, including the Mae Tao Clinic, has declined.
Mann Shwe Hnin said, however, that the CDC had begun receiving support, including food, clothing and educational materials, from NGOs based in Thailand.
One of 65 migrant schools based along the Thai-Burma border, CDC currently provides education for some 860 Burmese migrant children in Thailand, of which 200 live in the boarding house complex.
Sixty-two boys, aged 11 years or older, had been staying in the now destroyed bamboo and thatch-leaf buildings. The two injured boys suffered minor burns to their hands, heads and shoulders and were being treated at the Mae Tao Clinic, according to Mann Shwe Hnin.
The fire also claimed the identification documents, school books and personal belongings of many of the students.
Thai officials, including from the Ministry of Education and other local authorities in Mae Sot, pledged on Thursday to lend assistance, according to Mann Shwe Hnin.
“We have listed all the students’ information to send to the authorities so that they could have their documents back,” he said.
The Mae Tao Clinic is planning to relocate to the site where Wednesday’s fire broke out. Mann Shwe Hnin said the move would begin next month and be completed by November.
Up to 3 million Burmese migrants are said to be working in Thailand, although estimates vary. According to the Burmese government, about 2.6 million migrants have applied for legal documents since 2009.
Myo Aung, director general of Burma’s Ministry of Labour, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that over 40,000 children were among those who applied for a Certificate of Identity through the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok.
Rights groups estimate that the number of Burmese migrant children in Thailand may be much higher than official figures.
In Tak Province alone, around 13,000 Burmese children are studying at 65 migrant schools, while some 10,000 children go to Thai public school, according to Naing Naing Htun, general secretary of the Burmese Migrant Teachers’ Association.
It is estimated that some 25,000 children living with their families on plantation sites in Tak Province are not able to join either migrant schools or Thai schools, Naing Naing Htun said.