International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Help for a young hero after Thailand refugee camp fire

When fire swept through the Ban Mae Surin camp for Burmese refugees in northwestern Thailand on March 22, thirteen-year old Sha Nay Htoo’s * immediate reaction was not to flee the flames and black smoke, but to stay behind as long as he could to help rescue other refugees.

Today, Sha Nay is lying in a hospital bed with third degree burns over most of his body.  Although his condition has slowly improved since the International Rescue Committee rushed him and other critically injured refugees to a Thai hospital six hours away, he remains in critical condition and requires the constant use of a mechanical ventilator to pump oxygen to his lungs.
 
“Sha Nay’s actions were truly heroic,” said Christine Petrie, Thailand director for the IRC. “Now he will need intensive care for a number of months, including skin graft treatments and numerous surgeries.”   
 
The fire took the lives of 37 people and injured over 200. More than 2,300 people were displaced by the fire, which burned down hundreds of bamboo houses.  The IRC provides healthcare and other services in Ban Mae Surin and eight other refugee camps on the Thailand-Myanmar border.
 
Sha Nay’s mother, father and four older brothers also live in the camp and lost their house and all their possessions in the fire. Like hundreds of others, they are now living in makeshift tents. The family fled Myanmar in 2007, after fighting erupted near their home in the country’s eastern Karenni State.  
 
“We knew that that the family had not seen Sha Nay since he was rushed to the hospital in the chaos of the fire and we felt that we had to help a family member visit him,” Petrie said.
 
The Thai authorities do not normally allow refugees to leave the camps, but after negotiations, the IRC managed to get a special permit for Sha Nay’s brother Gaw Kay to visit his younger sibling. Last week, the 22-year-old was driven in an IRC truck to the hospital in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai where he was met by IRC health staff who prepared him in advance for the difficulties in seeing his brother with severe burns.
 
“I’m so happy I could see him,” Gaw Kay said after the reunion. “We lost everything in the fire, but at least my brother is alive.”
 
The Thai public health system does not pay for refugee healthcare or any injuries as a result of the fire. Sha Nay’s treatment is being paid for by IRC and private donations being raised by the local community. The IRC is supporting basic medical care, including the nutritional supplements he needs to remain in a stable condition. 
 
“The treatment and long-term care will be very expensive,” Petrie said. “A lot more money will be needed.”
 
Meanwhile, the IRC is regularly following up with hospital staff on the progress and prognosis of the young patient. 
 
“It usually takes burn victims a very long time to recover from their wounds,” Petrie said. “We hope with each passing day Sha Nay will show steady progress and will someday be able to fully recuperate from these awful injuries.”
 
*also rendered as Cha Nay Choo 
 

Donate Now: Help survivors of the devastating Thailand refugee camp fire.>>

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