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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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Australia Rejects U.N. Climate Report, Continues Using Coal

Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent.

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Australia, Coal
The Liddell coal-fired power station is seen in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, Australia. VOA

Australia is rejecting the latest U.N. report on climate change, insisting coal remains critical to energy security and lowering household power bills.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its report released Monday that global greenhouse gas emissions must reach zero by the middle of the century to stop global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The authors warned that if warming was allowed to reach two degrees, the world would be on course toward uncontrollable temperatures.

Climate change, Australia
The coal-fired Plant Scherer, one of the nation’s top carbon dioxide emitters, stands in the distance in Juliette, Georgia. VOA

They made special mention of coal, insisting that its use for power generation would have to fall to between zero and two percent of current usage.

The report has received a lukewarm response by Australia’s center-right government. It has said it has no intention of scaling back fossil fuel production because without coal, household power bills would soar.

Canberra also insists it is on target to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement, which attempts to unite every nation under a single accord to tackle climate change for the first time ever.

Australia earns billions of dollars exporting coal to China and other parts of Asia, while it generates more than 60 percent of domestic electricity.

Queensland, Australia
FILE – A dead tree stands near a water tank in a drought-stricken paddock located on the outskirts of the southwestern Queensland town of Cunnamulla in outback Australia, Aug. 10, 2017. (VOA)

Australia’s Environment Minister Melissa Price believes the IPCC report exaggerates the threat posed by fossil fuel.

“Coal does form a very important part of the Australian energy mixer and we make no apology for the fact that our focus at the moment is on getting electricity prices down,” Price said. “Every year, there is new technology with respect to coal and what its contribution is to emissions. So, you know, to say that it has got to be phased out by 2050 is drawing a very long bow.”

Australia has some of the world’s highest per capita rates of greenhouse gas pollution. A recent government report showed a failure to reduce levels of greenhouse gas pollution. The survey said that between January and March this year, Australia had its most elevated levels of carbon pollution since 2011.

Coal, Australia
Workers operate machines at a coal mine at Palaran district in Samarinda, Indonesia (VOA)

Conservationists argue Australia is doing too little to protect itself from the predicted ravages of a shifting climate.

Also Read: Use Every Resources To Help in Climate Change: Scientists

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent. Scientists warn that droughts, floods, heat waves, brush fires and storms will become more intense as temperatures rise, with potentially disastrous consequences for human health and the environment, including the Great Barrier Reef. (VOA)