Mae La refugee camp

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Mae La
Refugee camp
Mae La is located in Thailand
Mae La
Mae La
Coordinates: 17°07′44″N 98°22′50″E / 17.12889°N 98.38056°E / 17.12889; 98.38056
Country  Thailand
Provinces Tak Province
Amphoe Tha Song Yang District
 • Total 2.4 km2 (0.9 sq mi)
Population 46,133
Time zone UTC+7 (UTC+7)

Mae La (Maela) is a refugee camp in Thailand. It was established in 1984 in Tha Song Yang District, Tak Province in the Dawna Range area and currently houses 50,000 refugees,[1] with more arriving each week from Burma. Mae La is the largest refugee camp for Burmese in Thailand. Over 90% are ethnic Karen.[2]

The camp was originally established following the fall of the KNU base at the Thai village of Mae La on the border in 1984 with a population of 1,100. Shortly afterwards, due to security concerns, it was moved to the site where Zone C currently lies. After the fall of Manerplaw in January 1995, a number of camps were attacked in cross-border raids and the Thai authorities began to consolidate camps to improve security; Mae La was designated as the main consolidation camp in the area.

In April 1995, Mae La increased in size from 6,969 to 13,195 due to the closure of five camps to the north – Mae Ta Waw, Mae Salit, Mae Plu So, Kler Kho and Kamaw Lay Kho – and the move of Huay Heng later in October of the same year. Over the following year, the camp doubled in size again to 26,629 as those lost in the move came back into the camp.

In March 1997, some people were relocated here following the closure of Huai Bone camp (aka Don Pa Kiang) and again in February 1998 when Shoklo camp was closed.

Mae La is considered as a centre of studies for refugees, so the current population includes several thousand students who come to study in the camp (some from other camps but mostly from Burma). They are registered only as temporary inhabitants.

The camp was attacked in 1997 by DKBA troops with support from Burma Army units. There have been no incursions since then, but a mortar shell landed in Section A5 in March 1998. Every dry season, this area is quite tense with concerns relating to camp security – threats of armed attack and/or attempts to burn the camp.

The area of Karen State lying opposite Mae La camp is very rural with no large settlements or infrastructure. The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) maintains its 7th Brigade Headquarters nearby, and there are several Burma Army and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army outposts in the area (the DKBA is a faction of the KNLA which split off and aligned itself with the Burma Army in 1994).[3]



  1. ^ TBBC, Camps - Populations
  2. ^ UNHCR Thailand and Japan’s Pilot Resettlement Program 25 August 2010


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