A fire at a refugee camp for ethnic Karenni near Myanmar’s eastern border with Thailand destroyed hundreds of houses on Tuesday, leaving thousands of people uninjured but homeless, a camp committee member said.
“According to our map, 96 houses in block No. 1, 56 houses in block No. 2 were burned,” Khu Poeral told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We haven’t had any injuries, [but] thousands of people are now homeless.”
Karenni made homeless by the refugee camp fire have been placed at offices, schools and store buildings, but are in urgent need of food and shelter, he said.
The cause of the two-hour fire, which started at 11:15 a.m. in Karenni refugee camp 1, remains unknown, according to a post on the website of the Social Development Center, a small community-based organization located on the Thai-Burma border. The group seeks to protect the local environment and promote the human rights of the Karenni people in war-torn Kayah state.
The center said 148 homes were destroyed and more than 700 were left homeless during the fire which occurred during the traditional Karenni festival of Kay Htoe Boe.
The fire burned down a primary school but narrowly missed one of the clinics, the post said.
It then spread quickly throughout the camp, igniting refugees’ houses built with bamboo and dried leaves, it said.
A camp fire in the same location in March 2013 killed about 40 refugees, injured more than 100 and destroyed more than 400 houses, leaving about 2,300 homeless, according to
Khu Poeral and other reports at the time.
Another area fire in December 2013 killed an elderly woman and destroyed 20 houses, Khu Poeral said.
The Karenni (Red Karen) are a subgroup of the Karen people, a Sino-Tibetan people living mostly in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah State, which borders Thailand.
Following their involvement in a violent civil war in which they suffered alleged human rights abuses by Myanmar’s military junta and armed forces, many went to live in refugee camps on the Myanmar-Thai border or in Thailand.
Reported by Aung Moe Myint of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.