24 March 2013
A fire in the northern Thai province of Mae Hong Son has killed at least 30 people with some sources quoting as many as 45 dead and 200 injured. The blaze struck late on Friday afternoon at the Mae Surin refugee camp which houses ethnic Karen refugees from neighbouring Burma (Myanmar).
The exact cause of the fire has not yet been established. One theory is that it may have been sparked by an unattended cooking flame, but a Thai fire-fighter at the scene has speculated that the fire could have spread from nearby fields fanned by strong winds. This is the time of the year in northern Thailand where farmers burn the remains of their crops in advance of the new planting season. Whatever the cause, the fire spread quickly through the temporary bamboo and thatch shelters at the Mae Surin camp which houses over 3,000 Karen refugees and displaced people. Thai police say around 400 homes, a school, a clinic and two food warehouses were destroyed by the blaze with the majority of victims reported to be women, children and the elderly.
The Mae Surin camp is one of a number of refugee camps that are strung along the Thai-Burmese border with a total of around 130,000 people living in them. Most of the refugees are from Burma’s eastern Karen state where a long-running civil-war has been taking place between the Burmese regime and Karen rebel fighters. With the changes taking place in Burma one of the main rebel groups, the Karen National Union, signed a ceasefire with the regime last year. Authorities in Thailand have previously announced their desire to close the refugee camps, but have also said they will not do so until it is safe for those living there to return home.