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UN rushes aid to over 8,000 Bhutanese after fire destroys refugee camp in Nepal

UN rushes aid to over 8,000 Bhutanese after fire destroys refugee camp in Nepal

United Nations agencies, the Nepalese Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are sending emergency aid to about 8,000 Bhutanese refugees left homeless after a fire swept through a camp in eastern Nepal at the weekend.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that around 100 people were slightly injured in Saturday’s fire, which destroyed almost 90 per cent of the buildings in the Goldhap camp. Its cause is being investigated.

The agency distributed plastic sheeting and bamboo for building new huts, while the UN World Food Programme (WFP) provided emergency food aid for the refugees.

The Nepalese army has built 200 emergency shelters in the camp, which is one of seven in the eastern part of the country housing some 108,000 refugees who left Bhutan in the early 1990s.

The disaster was “absolutely traumatic” for the camp residents, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “We are urgently mobilizing all resources, with a lot of help from the Government, to get them shelter, food and comfort.”

Daisy Dell, UNHCR’s representative in Nepal, hailed the emergency response as remarkable. Some humanitarian organizations and local residents have also joined the relief effort, distributing hygiene kits, cooking utensils, clothing and food.

The Nepalese Government is assisting by giving 500 rupees – or about $8 – per family, while UNHCR will provide cash grants to help the refugees meet basic needs.

Recently, Nepal announced that it will issue exit permits to refugees from Bhutan, including those in Goldhap, so they can be resettled in third countries.

UNHCR, which lauded the Government’s decision, has submitted the details of some 10,000 interested refugees for consideration by the resettlement countries and the first refugees are expected to begin departing this month.