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Nepal: UN rushes aid to thousands of refugees made homeless by fire

Nepal: UN rushes aid to thousands of refugees made homeless by fire

Firefighters tackle the last of the blaze in Goldhap camp, Nepal
The United Nations and its humanitarian partners in Nepal are rushing aid to almost 5,000 people left homeless when fire swept through two refugee camps in the east of the Himalayan country.

“Fire in two camps on the same day is a disaster,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative Stephane Jaquemet said of Tuesday’s blaze, which destroyed some 700 shelters of refugees originating from Bhutan.

A Government-led committee has been set up to coordinate immediate emergency aid, and UNHCR, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and their non-governmental organization (NGO) and humanitarian partners, including Caritas, Lutheran World Federation, the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia and the Nepal Red Cross, have started distributing food, blankets, cooking kits and tarpaulins for shelter.

Some 3,790 of the 4,355 refugees in Goldhap and 1,200 in Sanischare, which shelters 12,590 people, lost their homes. This is not the first time that Goldhap has been ravaged by fire. In March 2008, a blaze razed 95 per cent of the camp, leaving most of the then 9,770 refugees homeless.

The fire spread rapidly through the closely packed huts, which are made of wood, bamboo and straw. The cause is not clear, and an investigation has been opened. Hundreds of policemen and refugees fought the fires in both camps using fire trucks and hoses from nearby towns.

Fire is a danger in the seven camps in eastern Nepal that house refugees originating from Bhutan, despite prevention and awareness campaigns conducted by the Government, UNHCR and its NGO partners. The threat is particularly acute during the current dry season.