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BDY Border Wide Coordination Meeting
Rice Farming 1_MRML
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2017 12 07 Veg Shop

Mae La

Mae La Sub-district, Tha Song Yang District, Tak Province

Distance from Border
8 km in a straight line

Distance from Mae Sot
57 km, approx. 1 hour driving time

Car: Good, all-year-round access from sealed road (public transport available)
Phone: Good mobile phone coverage in most parts of the camp 
Internet: Privately-run internet services available in camp

Camp Geography
Area 1,150 rai (184 ha)

Introduction and History

Camps Mae La 894X300

Mae La is by far the largest of the nine camps, with a population of more than 37,000 people or some 6,700 households.

More than three-quarters of the population come from Karen/Kayin State, while around 10 percent are from Mon State and more than 8 percent are from Bago Region in Burma/Myanmar. Small numbers also come from Yangon city and the Ayeyarwady Region.

The sprawling camp set among hills was originally established in 1984 with a population of some 1,100 people following the fall of a Karen National Union (KNU) base near the Thai village of Mae La.

After the fall of the KNU headquarters in Manerplaw the following year, a number of refugee camps in Thailand were attacked in cross-border raids in the area, and the Thai authorities began to consolidate the sites to improve security. Mae La was designated as the main consolidation site and by April 1995 its population was 13,195.

That number more than doubled during the following years when more camps, including the large Shoklo camp, were closed and residents were moved to Mae La.

Due to its size, Mae La has a wide range of educational opportunities and is considered a centre of study for refugees. The current population includes a few thousand students from other camps as well as from Burma/Myanmar who are registered as temporary inhabitants.

The camp could not run without the efforts of a huge number of camp workers such as rice warehouse worker Saw Great Soe and warehouse security guard Saw Dai Wi.

Since 2008 mobile phone coverage has been available at the site; this has facilitated privately-run Internet services and other business activities in the community.

A year later, the camp was connected to the mains electricity grid. The camp office and most health, education and social centres, as well as a number of households, now have access to constant electricity.

Breakdown by Age
<5 Yrs 11.2%
5-17 Yrs 33.1%
Adult 55.6%
Breakdown by Gender
Female 51.1%
Male 48.9%
Breakdown by Ethnicity
Karen/Kayin 84.8%
Burman 3.9%
Other 11.3%

In 2005, the Royal Thai Government gave approval for resettlement opportunities to be offered to camp residents. As of September 2018, a total of 32,371 persons had departed from Mae La, according to IOM data. The majority had resettled in the USA.