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Mae La Oon

Sob Moei District, Mae Hong Son Province

Distance from Border
2 km in a straight line, 3 km down the Yuam River

Distance from Mae Sariang
- Sob Moei, approx. 75 kms/ 2½ hours driving time in normal conditions
- Mae Sam Laep, 90 kms/ 3½ hours driving time in normal conditions

Car: all-year-round access; 4WD + chains required in the rainy season
Boat: access from Mae Saam Laep (or Mae Ngao with 5 hour walk)
Phone: no mobile phone coverage. Mobile phone coverage is available in a nearby village approx. 20 mins away.
Note: Due to its isolated location, arrangements can be made for visitors to sleep overnight in the camp

Camp Geography
Area 800 rai (320 ha)

Introduction and History

Camps Mae La Oon 894X300

Mae La Oon camp is built on a hilly area around the banks of the Yuam River. The population of more than 9,000 people is 99 percent ethnic Karen/Kayin.

The camp is a result of a consolidations of smaller camps in the Mae Sariang/Salween River area over a number of years, including former sites such as Mae Yeh Hta and Mae Khong Kha.

More than 80 percent of camp residents come from Karen/Kayin State, while another 15 percent are from the Bago Region in Burma/Myanmar.

In September 2002, the camp experienced a devastating flash flood. Tragically, 26 refugees lost their lives in the flooding. There was major damage to camp infrastructure. More than 250 houses were destroyed and another 230 were severely damaged. Two high schools, eight primary schools, one nursery, four camp administration offices, five NGO offices, four reception centres and two OPD clinics were also lost.  The Thai authorities coordinated with NGOs and the UN Refugee Agency to mount a rapid emergency relief effort.

A glimpse of life in the camp can be seen in a series of photos taken by the UN Refugee Agency.

Due to its isolation, the camp is off the mains electricity grid. The camp office and health, education and social centres in the camp have access to power from electric generators. 

Breakdown by Age
<5 Yrs 15.0%
5-17 Yrs 35.3%
Adult 49.7%
Breakdown by Gender
Female 50.9%
Male 49.1%
Breakdown by Ethnicity
Karen/Kayin 99.6%
Burman 0.2%
Other 0.2%

In 2005, the Royal Thai Government gave approval for resettlement opportunities to be offered to camp residents. As of September 2018, a total of 12,282 people have departed from Mae La Oon, according to IOM data. The majority resettled in the USA and Australia.