Nepal: UNHCR needs funds for camp razed by fire

Briefing Notes, 7 March 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 March 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Aid has been pouring into Goldhap refugee camp in eastern Nepal since a devastating fire last weekend which almost totally destroyed the camp, but there is still an urgent need for relief supplies for the thousands of refugees from Bhutan who lost their homes and belongings.

Saturday's fire razed 95 per cent of the camp to the ground and left most of its 9,770 refugees homeless. We need US$580,000 to rebuild the camp and help the refugees. The most immediate needs are shelter, water and sanitation, blankets and mosquito nets. The cause of the fire is still being investigated but it believed to have been accidental.

Much has been done in the last week with the help of the Nepalese government, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, and the local communities. Emergency shelters, water tanks and temporary toilets are being built and food rations for two weeks have been distributed. Both the government and UNHCR have been providing cash grants of up to US$32 per family to help refugees with their immediate needs.

Refugees have been constructing temporary shelters, and the most vulnerable are living temporarily in a camp school which was not affected by the fire.

Local residents and associations have responded remarkably by collecting and delivering food, clothes, kitchen utensils and money for the refugees.

Heavy rain has hampered relief efforts over the last few days but supplies continue to be distributed. Teams of health workers are offering medical services especially to children, pregnant and lactating women and those with chronic diseases who need regular medication. Psycho-social and trauma counselling will also be provided to the affected refugees.

Until Goldhap camp can be rebuilt with fire-prevention measures in place, UNHCR is exploring the possibility of relocating some families to some of the six other refugee camps in eastern Nepal to avoid overcrowding. The local authorities are also considering allocating additional space for reconstruction.

Some 108,000 refugees from Bhutan have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s.

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A new life for refugees from Bhutan

They fled to Nepal from Bhutan amid ethnic tensions in the early 1990s. Now, many of the slightly more than 100,000 refugees have been offered the possibility of resettlement to another country.