Suicide Attempts Increase at Mae La Refugee Camp

The largest refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border experienced a rash of suicide cases last year, mainly among the youth population, according to a doctor and camp resident.

In 2016, there were 57 suicide attempts at Mae La refugee camp, 23 of which resulted in death, according to figures provided by a camp member recording the cases.

“When we were in our village, we had not even heard of such a case even once a year. But here, the suicide attempts are frequent, sometimes with as many as 5 cases per month,” said Saw Kaliya, the camp resident tasked with documenting the cases. “Although not all the cases are resulting in death, [the fact] that an increasing number [of people in the camp] are trying to commit suicide is a very bad situation we need to be worried about.”

He added that his numbers were submitted to and checked by the Mae La refugee camp office and the camp hospital.

A doctor from the Mae La hospital confirmed that the number of suicide attempts at the camp increased last year, and blamed a combination of stress, drugs and alcohol.

“Since the camp only has around 40,000 people, it is correct to say that this rate is very high,” he said. “The cases mostly involve youth, and the key problems are stress and the involvement of alcohol and narcotic drugs.”

He added that he believes education and opportunities for the youth population in the camp could help to alleviate the situation. However, the nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border are facing a decline in funding as international donors withdraw support and look to invest elsewhere, including within Myanmar.

According to the list of cases at Mae La in 2016, 30 suicide attempts involved males, and 27 involved females. Sixteen of the males and seven of the females died.

The cases have so far not dropped off this year, with four suicide attempts and an additional death noted in January and February.

Although there have been suicide attempts recorded in other refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border, the number of case is highest at Mae La, and lowest at Umpieum, according to the Karen Refugee Committee.

Edited by Laignee Barron for BNI

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