About 10,000 Bhutanese refugees were without shelter on Sunday after a fire razed their camp in southeastern Nepal, an official said.
Jaya Mukunda Khanal, chief government administrator in Jhapa district, said 1,300 makeshift homes made of bamboo were destroyed at the Goldhap refugee camp before firefighters, police and local residents were able to bring the blaze under control Saturday night.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was sending immediate emergency aid and that the Nepalese government, non-governmental organisations and local residents living near the camp were also providing assistance to refugees affected by the fire.
“We are urgently mobilising all resources, with a lot of help from the government, to get them shelter, food and comfort,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
Guterres said UNHCR will provide cash grants to refugees to help them reconstruct their homes. UNHCR estimated only 228 of the 1,512 traditional thatched huts in the camp survived the fire.
More than 100,000 ethnic Nepalis – a Hindu minority in Bhutan for centuries – have been living as refugees in Nepal since the early 1990s, when they were forced out by Bhutanese authorities who wanted to maintain the country’s dominant Buddhist culture. The refugees live in seven UN-run camps in southeastern Nepal.
Bhutan refuses to allow the refugees to return, claiming most left voluntarily and renounced their citizenship.
Relations between Nepal and Bhutan have been strained by the issue. There have been several rounds of talks between top officials from both nations, but no significant progress has been made.
Local humanitarian agencies were distributing aid to the refugees, and police were investigating the cause of the blaze, said Khanal.
Jhapa is about 500 kilometers (310 miles) southeast of the capital Katmandu. (AP)
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