Bangkok, 26 March 2013 – A fire that swept through Mae Surin refugee camp in northern Thailand on Friday has been met with swift relief by NGOs and community-based organisations. According to JRS staff, 37 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers lost their lives and several thousands have been made homeless.
“There has been a good coordinated response led by the refugee community to care for the survivors who have lost their homes”, said JRS Thailand Director, Pauline Aaron.
The fire, reportedly sparked by a household cooking accident mid-afternoon on 22 March, quickly spread to two sections of the camp, incinerating two primary schools, up to 400 houses, a clinic, two nursery schools, the Baptist Church, and two food supply storerooms. Only 20 of the bamboo-thatch huts were left standing.
“The commitment and solidarity of the community brought them together to distribute food and set up temporary shelters, all while mourning the tragic loss of life”, said JRS Asia Pacific Director, Bambang Sipayung SJ.
Approximately 2,300 people – more than 65 percent of the camp population – have been affected, according to reports from staff working for the Jesuit Refugee Service and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
“Before we left the camp [after distributing food and other material assistance] one person with almost 100 percent body surface burns was referred to a hospital in Chiang Mai. But moments later, he passed away”, said Mr Rollie Verzosa, a JRS Education Coordinator in Mae Hong Son.
Bringing relief to survivors. Temporary housing sites for survivors have been identified in public spaces, such as the football field, a nursery school, and open areas close to the nearby river and at the entrance of Ban Mae Surin camp.
“The construction of temporary housing is in progress. Other refugees will stay with friends and relatives”, said Mr Verzosa.
The UNHCR has donated 800 plastic sheets and two to three blankets and mats per family.
“Our teams are returning to the camp this morning with plastic sheets, blankets, bed mats and other items to provide temporary emergency shelter before their homes can be rebuilt”, explained UNHCR Thailand Representative, Mireille Girard in a statement issued on 23 March.
Two days ago, JRS staff distributed more than two hundred bottles of water, fifty boxes of noodles, used clothing, kitchen wares and toothpaste.
Donations from the Thai government, Red Cross and other organisations have met most of the urgent needs of the community, according to NGOs. In addition, the Thai Ministry of Public Health is working with the International Rescue Committee to provide medical treatment.
“The main issue now is to ensure survivors receive winter clothing”, said Mr Verzosa.
Hundreds of people have lost all their belongings in the fire, and with temperatures in Mae Hong Son falling below 16 degrees Celsius at night, winter clothing is needed. The Karenni community, NGOs and UNHCR are conducting ongoing needs assessments of the refugee population, including those of education for children in the camp.
The Burmese refugees have been in Ban Mae Surin camp in northern Mae Hong Son province since 1992, after fleeing conflict in Karenni (Kayah) state.