Over 2,000 refugees from Myanmar are once again without homes and mourning loved ones after a fire destroyed a refugee settlement in NW Thailand.
The Thai health ministry said 32 refugees were killed, though some news groups claimed as many as 45 have died, and at least a 100 were injured, according to CNN.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident and doing what we can to provide instant relief,” said Mireille Girard, a representative for the United Nations refugee agency in Thailand.
“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.”
That is not to say that the living conditions of these refugees was much better before the fire. These camps are often over-crowded and without any kind of real authority to offer a sense of order or law to what happens within the camp.
Better refugee camps would have saved the lives of the 36 known dead. Over 2,000 people would have a roof over their head right now, not that they had a really form of shelter before the fire. But this should also been seen as a wake-up call to the international community to step in and accept more of the millions of refugees who come through Thailand and other countries flooded by refugees, like Ethiopia.
The Nation reported that victims are still being idetified and many of the survivors are very frightened. The refugees are not being moved to other camps, but are living in temporary housing at the site of the camp. Here is what The Nation reported about different aid given to the refugees at the camp.
Health Minister Dr Pradit Sinthawanarong said officials dispatched to the camp will monitor the situation to prevent the spread of communicable diseases borne by insects such as mosquitoes.
Psychiatrists and psychologists from Khun Yuam Hospital, Sri Sangwan Hospital and Thanyarak Hospital in Mae Hong Son and a team of interpreters will be working to screen refugees and rehabilitate those who are in need of help.
A team of medical personnel from Khun Yuam Hospital will also provide treatment for the victims.”
The camp was in the the Khun Yuam district of Mae Hong Son Province in Northern Thailand. This area has been flooded with refugees from Myanmar trying to escape the extreme violence still happening despite a series of cease-fires signed in 2011 and 2012. The UN and Thailand have both naively stated these cease-fires are a sign of Myanmar refugees returning to the country in the near future. This is evident in the the UN Refugee Agency’s overview of Thailand.
The UN Refugee Agency does adress some of the major problems in Thailand for refugees.
“The recent developments in Myanmar have prompted discussions among refugees and concerned stakeholders about eventual voluntary repatriation. While this presents an opportunity for UNHCR to seek durable solutions other than resettlement, it also brings a number of challenges. There is a need to ensure that repatriation is voluntary, undertaken in safety and dignity, and takes place only when conditions are conducive.”
Many refugees from around the world pass through or settle in Thailand and most Asian refugees currently living in the US lived in Thailand at some point. Most live in rather deplorable conditions through out the country.
According to The Bangkok Post, there are already plans to rebuild the camp. Hopefully the UN and Thai officials will use this opportunity to build a better, more organized camp. A small cooking fire should not be able to burn down an entire camp. That is poor planning and poor management.
The placement of Burmese refugees of many different ethnicities should not be left entirely to Thailand. But Thailand and the UN both need to recognize that the “temporary shelters” are no longer temporary when they have been there for 30 years and refugees in Thailand spend and average of 17 years in the country.
This may be one fire with minimal casualties, but it points to much larger problems that must be addressed.