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Refugee fire victims ‘suffering trauma’

Thousands of residents of Umpiem refugee camp left homeless by a fire last week have been sheltering in schools and mosques, with reports that some are suffering from trauma.

The fire swept through the camp, which lies close to Thailand’s border with Burma, on 25 February, destroying around 1,000 huts across five wards. While no deaths have been reported, the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) says several people were injured. One child who was reported missing has been found.

The Umpiem camp committee chairman, Saw Wah Htee, said that “some of the victims are traumatised – they lost everything they had apart from the clothes they were wearing”.

While TBBC and the UN’s refugee agency are providing aid, Saw Wah Htee says they “basically need everything – all their furniture, household equipment and construction materials are gone”.

The fire is believed to have started in a hut in ward nine where inhabitants were cooking. Fire trucks struggled to gain access to the camp.

Umpiem holds 17,500 refugees, the majority from Karen state in eastern Burma, in tightly packed wooden huts, allowing for the quick spread of fire.

TBBC estimates that around 3,000 have been affected. One man made homeless said that the situation was proving difficult to cope with. “We’re not doing too well – we are unable to sleep at night due to the cold weather and some children have diarrhoea and are vomiting so we to take care of them.”

Community kitchens have been set up in seven temporary sites where those left destitute by the fire are sheltering. Food rations are also being distributed.

Around 50 families have returned to the razed wards, TBBC says, but work needs to be done to ensure safety. “For more families to move back a major site cleanup is needed to remove debris left behind, to level and re-stabilize the land/soil which has been burnt,” the groups said. “Also water supply, latrines are needed before families can go back.”



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