Relief efforts are underway in south-eastern Nepal, where a fire swept through one of seven UN camps for Bhutanese refugees at the weekend, leaving more than 10,000 people homeless.
Thousands of ethnic Nepalese Hindus were expelled from Bhutan in the 1990s when the monarchy decided to promote Buddhism more
The fire broke out at the Goldhap camp in Jhapa province about 300 kilometres southeast of the capital, Kathmandu, at the weekend. Before it could be brought under control, the damage had already been done -- around 1,300 makeshift homes made out of bamboo had been burnt to ashes.
In total, around 80 percent of the camp burnt down. Nobody died but seven people were injured and thousands have been left homeless. Relief agencies have poured into the area to help provide emergency shelter, food and water.
Nini Gurung from the UNHCR in Kathmandu said the refugees had “immediately started receiving food packets and plastic sheets.”
Praise for local residents
The UN also praised local residents living near the camp for their response to the disaster. They reportedly provided emergency shelter and food to the victims.
Meanwhile, the government has deployed thousands of security personnel to construct temporary huts.
The home minister and Chairman of the Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, held a meeting to chalk out a strategy to provide relief to the affected families.
He also offered $ US 50,000 in relief to the victims, as well as calling for more help from national and international NGOs.
The authorities say they don’t yet know what sparked the blaze, but they have launched an investigation into the matter.
Nepal and Bhutan at loggerheads
Ever since they were forced to flee Bhutan, thousands of ethnic Nepalis have been confined to seven UN-run camps in south-eastern Nepal.
Bhutan and Nepal are at loggerheads on how to solve the crisis.
Bhutan refuses to allow the refugees to return, claiming that most left voluntarily and renounced their citizenship.
UNHCR’s Gurung explained that there were now plans to resettle some of the refugees to third countries:
“There has been a breakthrough in the solution for this protracted situation which lasted for some 13 years. We are thinking of resettling them in the third countries such as the US.”
Last year, the US offered to resettle at least 60,000 refugees. However, the refugee community itself is divided between those who favour resettlement and others who insist they must push for repatriation to Bhutan.
This latter solution is not yet an option but the UNHCR says it will continue to advocate for repatriation, along with the international community.