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Fire destroys UN refugee camps

Up to 6,000 Bhutanese left homeless after twin blazes rip through centers

The Sanichare Bhutanese refugee camp in eastern Nepal was razed in the fire The Sanichare Bhutanese refugee camp in eastern Nepal was razed in the fire
  • ucanews.com reprter, Kathmandu
  • Nepal
  • March 23, 2011
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Up to 6,000 refugees from Bhutan were left homeless after fire swept through two UN camps within hours of each other in eastern Nepal, according to local officials.

At least 3,000 people were left without shelter yesterday after a fire in Goldhap camp in Jhapa district destroying around 700 out of 800 huts.

The fire broke out around 7:30 a.m. local time and quickly spread engulfing many of the huts before fire crews could arrive and contain the blaze, according to eyewitnesses.

It was not clear how the blaze started, but arson does not appear to be suspected.

Around 20 people were injured, two seriously, according to chief district officer, Shashi Shekhar Shrestha.

The wind carried the flames from hut to hut. The fire became uncontrollable. In ninety minutes 512 huts were reduced to ashes, according to the Jesuit Refugee Center Field director for Nepal, Jesuit Father Paramasivam Amalraj.

“Along with the huts our Child Play Centre and Youth Friendly Centre were consumed by fire; nothing could be salvaged,” he said.

The health centre run by the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia was also engulfed by the fire, he added.

Aid organizations such as Caritas Nepal and the Red Cross are already working to provide relief assistance to the victims, the Jesuit priest said.

Nepal’s government says it will give each victim 1,500 rupees (US$35) dollars to each victim, according to Shrestha.

Two years ago another fire engulfed Goldhap camp leaving 12,000 people homeless.

Meanwhile, a second blaze yesterday afternoon at Sanichare camp in Morang district left several thousand more refugees homeless. Two children were reported by local media to have been injured in the blaze which broke out around 2 pm,  destroying around 180 huts in just 45 minutes, Father Amalraj said.

Relief agencies were scrambling to provide assistance to victims, the priest added.

All the refugees in the camps are ethnic Nepalese. In 1990, Bhutan began a program of “Bhutanization,” enforcing northern Bhutan culture as the official national culture. Language, dress and land ownership codes discriminated against non-Bhutanese minority groups.

Some minority groups were evicted, according to some international agencies. The refugees in Nepal say local Bhutanese leaders took their citizen cards, forced them to sign away land and told them to migrate.
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