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Suicide Rates on Rise among Myanmar Refugees in Thailand’s Biggest Camp, says UN Study

Collaborative efforts between nongovernmental groups and government agencies could help identify the cause and ways to prevent suicides

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Refugees shop for food in a market inside Mae La camp in Tak province, northwestern Thailand, June 2, 2012. Benarnews/RFA
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  • The study found that only one person committed suicide in Mae La camp in 2014, but the number escalated to 14 each year in 2015 and 2016
  • During the same three-year period, 96 people attempted to kill themselves at the camp, the study said
  • Family conflicts, financial situations, alcohol and drug abuse and depression could have contributed to the rising figures

Myanmar, July 1, 2017: Suicide among Myanmar refugees in Thailand’s biggest camp increased at an alarming rate during the past two years, according to a study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The study, which was released on Monday – the eve of World Refugee Day – found that only one person committed suicide in Mae La camp in 2014, but the number escalated to 14 each year in 2015 and 2016.

During the same three-year period, 96 people attempted to kill themselves at the camp, the study said.

“The trend is increasing in the past couple of years,” said Dana Graber Ladek, chief of IOM mission in Bangkok. “This actually needs more services, such as by counselors and psychiatrists in the camps, to prevent suicide.”

Mae La camp in Thasongyang district of Tak province, about 500 km (312 miles) north of Bangkok, harbors about 40,000 refugees, mostly ethnic Karen from eastern Myanmar. It is the largest of nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, where about 100,000 people resettled after the Myanmar military regime launched offensives against ethnic rebel forces during the 1980s.

Ladek said collaborative efforts between nongovernmental groups and government agencies could help identify the cause and ways to prevent suicides.

“The Interior Ministry of Thailand takes this refugee situation very seriously, and it’s not a situation that one agency can address,” Ladek told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. He added that the effort would require a collaborative approach on many different levels.

The study said no conclusive cause for the surge in suicides had been established. But, it said, family conflicts, financial situations, alcohol and drug abuse and depression could have contributed to the rising figures.

Middle-age people, mostly those who have spent their entire lives in the camp, were statistically at higher risk of suicide, the study said. It said the most common methods used were hanging and drinking herbicides which are easily available because many refugees work on farmlands.

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Government officials respond

Officials of a Thai government agency that manages the camp said they were aware of the suicides. They responded by fielding psychiatrists who provided counseling to vulnerable individuals and set up checkpoints to stop drug trafficking into the camp.

“We have our representatives staying with refugees in the camp who observe and are ready to talk with them 24/7,” Kwanruen Srichan, director of Border and Refugee Affairs Section, told BenarNews during a phone interview.

“We are expecting that attempted and completed suicides would decline,” she said.

Thailand began hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1970s. More recently, Thailand has received populations threatened by armed conflict and ethnic persecution in Myanmar, according to Amnesty International (AI).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said more than 80,000 Myanmar refugees in Thailand had resettled in other countries since 2005. It said tens of thousands had returned to Myanmar after the new democratically elected government announced its commitment to voluntary refugee repatriation.

But the 100,000 refugees remaining in nine camps are facing reduced funding, decreased resettlement opportunity and poorer services, officials said.

“This is very complex,” Ladek said. “All the reasons are contributing” to the problem.

Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, but officials said the country has been committed to providing the humanitarian needs of refugees and asylum seekers.

In addition to the 100,000 people living in refugee camps, AI said there were about 8,000 asylum seekers from more than 50 countries in Thailand.

Another 330 UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers are being held in immigration detention centers in difficult living conditions and many have been forcibly repatriated.

On Tuesday, AI said that despite Thailand’s role in hosting and supporting large refugee populations, the nation had failed to consistently protect their rights.

“Refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand are not afforded any legal status under Thai law and remain extremely vulnerable to arrest, detention, forcible deportation and exploitation,” AI said in a statement.

-Benarnews/RFA

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U.N. Climate Talks Pit Countries Against One Another

In light of the deep divisions over how to best fight climate change, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is considering returning to Katowice to push for a strong declaration.

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A wind turbine overlooks the coal-fired power station in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. VOA

Divisions deepened at the U.N. climate talks Thursday, pitting rich nations against poor ones, oil exporters against vulnerable island nations, and those governments prepared to act on global warming against those who want to wait and see.

The stakes were raised by a scientific report that warned achieving the most ambitious target in the 2015 Paris climate accord to limit emissions is getting increasingly difficult. Fresh figures released this week showed that emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped the highest in seven years, making the task of cutting those emissions one day to zero even more challenging.

Negotiators at the climate talks in Katowice, Poland, still disagree on the way forward but have just a few days to finish their technical talks before ministers take over.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” said Amjad Abdulla, the chief negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States. “We are going to forward the sticky issues to next week.”

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Logs that were illegally cut from Amazon rainforest are transported on a barge on the Tapajos river, a tributary of the Amazon, near the city of Santarem, Para state. VOA

Among the splits that need to be overcome before the conference ends on Dec. 14 are:

* The question of what kind of flexibility developing countries will have when it comes to reporting their emissions and efforts to curb them.

The issue is central to the Paris rulebook, which countries have committed to finalizing this year. Environmental activists insist that countries such as Brazil, with its vast Amazon rainforest, and China, the world’s biggest polluter, should have to provide hard data on emissions and not be treated like poorer nations who don’t have the ability to do a precise greenhouse tally.

Complicating matters, a group of rich countries that includes the United States and Australia is seeking similar leeway as developing nations.

 

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In this photograph released by the Sri Lankan Air Force media division on May 29, 2017, flooding is seen in the country’s Matara district. VOA

 

* Several oil-exporting countries have objected to the idea of explicitly mentioning ways in which global warming can be kept at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body made up of scientists from around the world, recently proposed “policy pathways” that would achieve this goal, which foresee phasing out almost all use of coal, oil and gas by 2050.

But Saudi Arabia and some of its allies say it would be wrong to cite those pathways in a text about future ambitions.

* Developing countries are frustrated that rich nations won’t commit themselves to providing greater assurances on financial support for poor nations facing hefty costs to fight the effects of climate change. European governments argue that they are bound by budget rules that limit their ability to allocate money more than a few years in advance.

What’s clear is that few countries are moving in the right direction to halt global warming.

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Pollution is emitted from steel factories in Hancheng, Shaanxi province. VOA

“The first data for this year point to a strong rise in the global CO2 emissions, almost all countries are contributing to this rise,” said Corinne Le Quere, who led the team that published the emissions study this week.

“In China, it’s boosted by economic stimulation in construction. In the U.S., an unusual year, cold winter and hot summer, both boosting the energy demand. In Europe, the emissions are down but less than they used to be, and that’s because of growing emissions in transport that are offsetting benefits elsewhere,” she told the meeting in Katowice.

Le Quere, the director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia in England, noted some positive news.

“We have renewable energy,” she said. “It is displacing coal in the U.S. and in Europe, and it is expanding elsewhere.

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An ice crevasse is seen on the Baishui Glacier No. 1, the world’s fastest melting glacier due to its proximity to the Equator, on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. VOA

“It’s not enough to meet the growing energy demand in developing countries in particular,” she said. “But the industry is growing.”

Host nation Poland, which depends on coal for 80 percent of its energy needs, is among those demanding help for workers in coal and gas industries who could lose their jobs as nations shift to cleaner energy.

Also Read: AIIMS Prepare Research Project On Air Pollution’s Impact on Health

In light of the deep divisions over how to best fight climate change, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is considering returning to Katowice to push for a strong declaration.

“It very much remains a possibility,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday. “If he feels his presence will be useful, he will go back. But no decision has yet been made.” (VOA)