UNHCR delivers urgent aid as death toll rises after fire in Thailand refugee camp

Briefing Notes, 26 March 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 March 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Thailand, the death toll from last Friday's fire at a refugee camp on the border with Myanmar has risen to thirty seven. In addition, 2,300 people lost their homes.

The fire broke out in Ban Mae Surin camp in Mae Hong Son province on Friday afternoon. It spread quickly to destroy more than 400 homes, a boarding school, clinic, warehouse, community facilities as well as government and aid agency offices. Refugees with serious burns have been taken to local hospitals.

The Thai authorities are investigating the cause. They are also leading relief efforts in the government-administered camp, working closely with UNHCR and NGOs including International Rescue Committee (IRC), The Border Consortium (TBC) and the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees (COERR).

The survivors are being provided with food and drinking water.

Temporary health services have been set up and the IRC is working with Thailand's Ministry of Public Health to provide psycho-social counseling to the affected population.

Some of the refugees have moved in with their relatives in the camp.

Families sleeping near a river that runs through the camp are being advised to move to minimize the risk of disease outbreak.

Discussions are ongoing on the location of temporary sites as people are currently too traumatized to rebuild their homes in the affected areas. The Border Consortium is repairing communal buildings and spaces including a school and football field to host some families. IRC will set up toilets at these temporary sites.

UNHCR has meanwhile sent some 60 family-sized tents, more than 800 plastic sheets and 1,200 blankets and sleeping mats to the camp. The authorities and NGOs are also providing mosquito nets, clothing and other supplies.

UNHCR and its partners are also working to identify vulnerable refugees among those affected by the fire, including pregnant women, unaccompanied children and the disabled, to make sure their special needs are met.

Ban Mae Surin refugee camp was established in 1992 and hosts some 3,500 refugees mostly from Kayah state in eastern Myanmar. It is one of nine border camps in western Thailand housing an estimated 120,000 refugees from Myanmar.

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