Nepal/Chad: Refugee camps start to rise from the ashes

Briefing Notes, 22 April 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 April 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is rebuilding Goldhap camp in eastern Nepal after a fire last month left nearly 8,000 refugees from Bhutan homeless in the camp. Once completed, it will feature fire-retardant thatched roofs and wider spacing between huts to minimize fire hazards.

The blaze in early March was sparked by an oil lamp in a centrally located hut in Goldhap camp. It spread quickly through the dense network of huts, some of which had recently been built into the walkways to accommodate the growing refugee population. Nearly 95 per cent of the camp was destroyed, but fortunately no one was killed.

For the last eight weeks, the refugees have been living in temporary shelters and with host families in and around the camp. The most vulnerable ones live in the camp school that survived the blaze. The Nepali government, UNHCR and its partners (including the Lutheran World Foundation, Caritas and the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia), together with the World Food Programme and other aid agencies have been distributing food, tarpaulins, plastic mats, jerry cans, mosquito nets and emergency cash grants to these refugees.

To prevent the spread of diseases, we have brought in health workers, installed water tanks and latrines, dug waste disposal pits, conducted sanitation awareness activities, and carried out ultra-low-level anti-mosquito fogging around the temporary shelters.

Life is slowly returning to normal for Goldhap's refugees. UNHCR made copies of school notes for students who had lost them in the fire. Refugees who had to take their annual exams were moved to other camps and hosted there until their exams were over.

The longer-term reconstruction of Goldhap camp was delayed as the Camp Management Committee (CMC) did not agree on the roofing material. It had requested for expensive sandwich panels which were not available in the local market and did not address fire hazards. UNHCR and the government are trying to resolve the issue by having partners demonstrate how to build fire-retardant roofs with thatch.

The reconstruction is expected to be completed by June, before the monsoon rains start in July.

UNHCR and its partners have received some US$177,000 to rebuild Goldhap camp, but still need an additional US$407,509 to complete the job. More than 107,000 refugees from Bhutan have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, in eastern Chad's Goz Amer refugee camp, work is underway on rebuilding after an 11 April blaze that left over 2,100 Sudanese refugees from the Darfur region homeless. Some 270 family huts were destroyed in the blaze, started by an untended cooking fire. We are encouraging refugees to rebuild their homes with bricks instead of using the traditional straw, stick and mud materials popular in that region. In the meantime, the affected families have been accommodated in UNHCR family tents.

The main challenge to brick construction is the severe lack of water in eastern Chad. Refugees need to use the little water available as potable water and are reluctant to waste it. Therefore, we have urged them to only use water from a nearby wadi (seasonal stream) for brick construction, while water provided in the camp by us should be used for drinking and cooking purposes.

In a display of refugee solidarity, refugees this week in Djabal camp, near the town of Goz Beida, conducted a voluntary food collection for the affected families in Goz Amer. Goz Amer is about 45 km south-east of Goz Beida.




UNHCR country pages

Darfuri Refugees in Chad: No end in Sight

More than six years after the beginning of the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, more than a quarter-of-a-million refugees remain displaced in neighbouring Chad. Most of the refugees are women and children and many are still traumatized after fleeing across the border after losing almost everything in land and air raids on their villages.

Families saw their villages being burned, their relatives being killed and their livestock being stolen. Women and girls have been victims of rape, abuse and humiliation, and many have been ostracized by their own communities as a result.

The bulk of the refugees live in 12 camps run by UNHCR in the arid reaches of eastern Chad, where natural resources such as water and firewood are scarce. They have been able to resume their lives in relative peace, but all hope one day to return to Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of their compatriots are internally displaced.

In eastern Chad, UNHCR and other agencies are helping to take care of 180,000 internally displaced Chadians, who fled inter-ethnic clashes in 2006-2007. Some families are starting to return to their villages of origin only now.

Darfuri Refugees in Chad: No end in Sight

Chad's other refugee crisis

While attention focuses on the Darfuris in eastern Chad, another refugee crisis unfolds in southern Chad.

A second refugee crisis has been quietly unfolding in the south of Chad for the past few years, getting little attention from the media and the international community. Some 60,000 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) are hosted there in five camps and receive regular assistance from UNHCR. But funding for aid and reintegration projects remains low. Refugees have been fleeing fighting between rebel groups and governmental forces in northern CAR. 17,000 new refugees have arrived from northern CAR to south-eastern Chad since the beginning of 2009.

Chad's other refugee crisis

Crisis in the Central African Republic

Little has been reported about the humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the Central African Republic (CAR), where at least 295,000 people have been forced out of their homes since mid-2005. An estimated 197,000 are internally displaced, while 98,000 have fled to Chad, Cameroon or Sudan. They are the victims of fighting between rebel groups and government forces.

Many of the internally displaced live in the bush close to their villages. They build shelters from hay, grow vegetables and even start bush schools for their children. But access to clean water and health care remains a huge problem. Many children suffer from diarrhoea and malaria but their parents are too scared to take them to hospitals or clinics for treatment.

Cattle herders in northern CAR are menaced by the zaraguina, bandits who kidnap children for ransom. The villagers must sell off their livestock to pay.

Posted on 21 February 2008

Crisis in the Central African Republic

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