Tuesday 12, September 2006
GENEVA, September 12 (UNHCR) – Refugee children playing with a lighter are believed to have started a fire that destroyed a refugee reception centre in Slovakia. All 41 asylum seekers escaped the blaze, which erupted on Monday at a centre in Brezova pod Bradlom, 100 kms north of Bratislava.
“Some of those housed in the centre managed to take a few personal belongings, but most had to leave with only the clothes on their backs,” UNHCR chief spokesperson Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. “The asylum seekers were taken to Gabcikovo, another accommodation centre east of Bratislava.”
Investigators are examining the cause of the fire and interviewing eyewitnesses, but Redmond said refugee children playing with a lighter apparently started the blaze, which broke out at around 10:30 a.m. and spread rapidly in the wooden building. An administrative wing was partly saved.
The fire was detected quickly, giving the refugees – including 17 children – time to get out safely. UNHCR staff immediately visited the site to organize help for the refugees, who came from Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Moldavia, Pakistan, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.
On Tuesday, the Slovak Humanitarian Council distributed clothes, including underwear, hygiene items and shoes to the refugees, who were very concerned about the loss of money, mobile phones and documents such as birth certificates, identity papers and diplomas. UNHCR has compiled an inventory of the missing items and will present this to the government.
One woman who was preparing for voluntary repatriation said she would have to rethink her decision after losing all her money.