Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thai Border Tragedy

A fire has swept through the Umpiem Mai refugee camp on the Thai-Burmese border destroying approximately 1,000 of the bamboo huts that shelter the camp's 17,000 residents.  The Umpiem Mai camp is one of ten operated in Thailand by a consortium of aid groups.  Altogether, an estimated 130,000 people, many of them ethnic Karen people who have fled Burmese government repression, live in the camps.

The fire, which is believed to have started as a result of cooking in one of the huts, was spread by high winds and dry conditions.  There were no deaths, but some children reportedly suffered burns.  The Thai government will not allow those who lost their shelters to leave the camp.  Aid organizations are promising to help refugees rebuild.

Changes in the Burmese government last year together with a peace agreement in January between the government and the Karen National Union, a group fighting for greater autonomy for the Karen people, have prompted hope that refugees will be able to return to Burma (Myanmar).  However, most refugees remain fearful of the Burmese government's intentions.

For a firsthand description of the Umpiem Mai camp--with photos taken last year--go here.