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UNHCR distributes aid to victims of blaze in Chad refugee camp

UNHCR distributes aid to victims of blaze in Chad refugee camp

UNHCR distributes mats, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans to some 2,130 people left homeless when fire spread through a refugee camp in eastern Chad.
14 April 2008
The smouldering ashes of "I" Block in Goz Amer.

GOZ AMER, Chad, April 14 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency distributed mats, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans at the weekend to some 2,130 people left homeless when fire spread through part of the remote Goz Amer refugee camp in eastern Chad. The UN World Food Programme has agreed to distribute an extra one-month food ration to the 270 affected families.

UNHCR has revised the number of homeless from Friday's blaze downwards from an original estimate of some 3,000. The 2,130 refugees from neighbouring Sudan's Darfur region are currently being housed in three schools at the camp while UNHCR awaits the arrival of family tents.

The refugee agency hopes to rebuild the destroyed block - one of 24 in the camp of 20,500 refugees - using more solid material than the straw and mud that most shelters are made from. UNHCR has sent a site planner to Goz Amer.

"In order to prevent such disasters from happening in the future, we want to convince refugees to build their homes with [locally-produced] bricks," said Catherine Huck, UNHCR's deputy representative in Chad. "Brick construction is not only safer, but could also serve as an income-generating activity for the refugees," she added.

As of Monday, 24 slightly injured refugees had been admitted to the camp's health centre. They included two women who were being kept under surveillance with first degree burns.

UNHCR staff believe many of those made homeless will suffer from shock and trauma because the blaze will remind them of the janjaweed attacks on their villages, including house torching, that forced them to flee from Darfur to Chad in 2003 and 2004. A UNHCR partner organization has admitted 15 severely traumatized refugees and plans to begin counselling sessions for them this week.

During a visit on Monday, "I" Block was just a smouldering pile of ashes. Two other blocks had been partly damaged during Friday's blaze, whose cause was believed to be an untended cooking fire which spread rapidly, fanned by high winds. It was contained and put out by refugees and aid workers using blankets, extinguishers and water.

"Now that we've seen the extent of the disaster, we have decided to suspend school for one week in order to give the refugees some time and space to recover from the shock," noted Emmanuel Uwurukunda, UNHCR's acting head of office in the town of Goz Beida.

Goz Amer, about 40 kilometres from Goz Beida and 70 km from the Sudanese border, is the southernmost of 12 UNHCR-run camps along a 600-km stretch of the Chad-Sudan border housing some 250,000 Darfur refugees. The refugee agency also helps some 180,000 internally displaced Chadians in the east. The remoteness of the vast and sometimes insecure area makes it one of UNHCR's most logistically challenging operations anywhere.

By Annette Rehrl in Goz Amer, Chad