NGOs working in Mae La Refugee Camp:

ADRA Adventist Development and Relief Agency 

COERR Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees


HI Handicap International

IRC International Rescue Committee

RTP Right To Play

SCI Save The Children

SVA Shanti Volunteer Association

TBC The Border Consortium

WEAVE Women’s Education for Advancement and Empowerment


Mae La is also known as ‘Beh Klaw’ in Karen language, which means ‘cotton field’ due to the agricultural activities for which Karen leaders first negotiated permission for refugees to cross into the area in 1984.


TBC Feeding Population: 14,994 (March 2012)

Breakdown by Age
<5 Yrs
5-17 Yrs
Breakdown by Gender
Breakdown by Ethnicity
Location: Mae La Sub-district, Tha Song Yang District, Tak Province
Distance from Border: 8 kms in a straight line
Distance from Mae Sot: 57 kms, approx. 1 hour driving time
Accessibility: 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)


The camp was originally established following the fall of the KNU base at the Thai village of Mae La on the border in 1984 with a population of 1,100. Shortly afterwards, due to security concerns, it was moved to the site where Zone C currently lies. After the fall of Manerplaw (KNU headquarters in Karen State, Burma) in January 1995, a number of camps were attacked in cross-border raids and the Thai authorities began to consolidate camps to improve security. Mae La was designated as the main consolidation camp in the area.

Mae La refugee camp

In April 1995, Mae La increased in size from 6,969 to 13,195 due to the closure of five camps to the north – Mae Ta Waw, Mae Salit, Mae Plu So, Kler Kho and Ka Mawlay Kho and the move of Huay Heng later in October of the same year. Over the following year, the camp doubled in size again to 26,629 as those lost in the move came back into the camp. In March 1997, some people were relocated to Mae La following the closure of Huai Bone camp and again in February 1998 when Shoklo camp was closed.

The camp has been the focus of several military attacks. It was infiltrated by Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) troops in 1997 with support from Burma Army units. The DKBA is a faction of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) which split off and aligned itself with the Burma Army in 1994. There have been no incursions since then, although a mortar shell landed in Section A5 in March 1998. Every dry season, this area is quite tense with concerns relating to camp security – threats of armed attack and/or attempts to burn down the camp.

In more recent years, the area of Karen State opposite Mae La camp has been the scene of substantial conflict, with the DKBA and Burma Army deposing the KNLA from its headquarters in 2009. The area is now under the control of the newly transformed DKBA as a Border Guard Force under the Burma Army.

Due to its size, Mae La has a wide range of educational opportunities and is considered a centre of study for refugees, so the current population includes a few thousand students who come to study in the camp (some from other camps, but mostly from Burma). They are registered only as temporary inhabitants.

In 2008, mobile phone coverage was made available to the camp, and this has also facilitated privately-run Internet services in the community.

A year later, the camp was connected to the mains electricity grid, and the camp office, most health, education and social centres, as well as a number of households in the camp now have access to 24 hour-a-day electricity.

                                                                                                             Courtesy of The Border Consortium

Resettlement (Source: IOM)

In 2005, RTG gave approval for resettlement opportunities to be offered to camp residents. Statistics for resettlement by camp are available since 2006. As of December 2011, 23,120 persons had departed from Mae La, with the majority resettling in the USA. 


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  Map : Courtesy of The Border Consortium