Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 10:12 GMT

Nepal: Emergency relief for fire victims at Bhutanese camp

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 3 March 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Nepal: Emergency relief for fire victims at Bhutanese camp, 3 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47cfba8a1e.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
KATHMANDU, 3 March 2008 (IRIN) - Aid agencies, the government and the Nepal Army (NA) are rushing to provide emergency relief to some 7,000 Bhutanese refugees who were left without homes, clothing and food after an accidental fire at their camp in eastern Nepal on 1 March, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

"Emergency response is already under way to help the fire-affected refugees and the situation is gradually [coming] under control," Nini Gurung, a UNHCR spokesperson, told IRIN in Kathmandu.

Besides aid agencies and local non-governmental organisations, (NGOs), the Nepalese government, local communities and the Nepal Army (NA) are also providing help to refugees from the afflicted camp - Goldhap camp - one of seven camps in eastern Nepal which have been accommodating some 107,000 Bhutanese refugees for the past 17 years.

The refugees - Bhutanese nationals of Nepalese origin (also known as 'Lhotshampas') - were expelled by the Bhutanese government after it passed a law stripping them of citizenship due to their ancestry.

Fire - a constant threat

Refugee representatives in Kathmandu told IRIN the fire was the most devastating they had ever experienced. Only 228 out of 1,512 homes were spared, according to UNHCR. One school for refugees was also destroyed, affecting the education of nearly 4,000 refugee children, according to the refugees.

One of the key concerns for the refugees has always been living in fire-prone thatched huts in the camps. There have been several fires in the past few years. The previous incident was in November 2007 at Beldangi 1 Camp where nearly 430 refugees were left homeless after 68 shelters were razed to the ground.

"There is an urgent need for fire-fighting and prevention awareness to avoid any fire accidents in future," said Sanjeev Kafle of the Nepal Red Cross (NRC).

Government officials said they were working on immediate shelter plans for the refugees. In addition to providing financial aid, the NA has begun building 200 big emergency shelters to house them in groups until their individual houses are rebuilt by the UNHCR and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Nepal.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), LWF and refugee leaders had an emergency meeting on 3 March to determine the best interim food distribution method, as there are few shelters or storage facilities in the camp, said WFP officials.

WFP appeal

"This is an unbelievable tragedy. Fortunately we have enough food on hand to meet the immediate needs of affected families," Richard Ragan, the WFP country representative, said, adding that none of WFP's food warehouses had been destroyed in the Goldhap fire, contrary to local media reports.

WFP officials distributed an initial two-day mixed ration of rice and wheat-soya-blend to the Bhutanese refugees on 2 March.

"We stand ready to provide additional food as required," said Ragan, adding that there was, however, an urgent need for more resources. WFP officials said they were already facing longer-term resource constraints, and without new contributions the food for refugees would run out by the end of May.

"I urge the international donor community to step up its support for the Bhutanese refugees as we try to help them recover from this terrible event," said Ragan.

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