ASIA/NEPAL - Fires in two refugee camps: over 5,000 civilians without assistance

Jhapa (Agenzia Fides) – Many questions have been raised about what occurred in Nepal in recent days: two refugee camps in the eastern part of the country were set alight, with a hefty toll of over 700 homes destroyed and more than 5,000 people, including women, children and the elderly, left without any assistance. The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), which operates in the area, providing food assistance, health and education to more than 30,000 refugees from neighbouring Bhutan and Nepal in camp in the border area, is asking questions.
Jesuit priest, Fr P.S. Amal, Director of the JRS in Nepal, says worriedly, “It's hard to believe that two fires occurred on the same day, March 22, at the same time, in two refugee camps. Now there is urgent need of financial assistance to restore housing and services to more than 5,000 people who have been completely abandoned.” The Jesuits and voluntary workers tried to douse the flames in Goldhap (which obliterated more than 500 tents in little over an hour). But there was nothing they could do when the news came that there was also a fire at the camp in Sanischare, where more than 180 tents were burned. A playground for children, a clinic run by the Jesuits, and a health centre of the “Association of Medical Doctors of Asia” (AMDA) was also destroyed.
The government has ordered an investigation into the incident and set up an emergency committee for immediate assistance to the 5,000 refugees affected, in cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, JRS and Caritas. Young volunteers who work with JRS have begun to distribute food, while the Red Cross has distributed blankets and the UN is working to relocate the refugees.
There are currently over 69,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. In addition, 36,000 of them have already reached other countries such as the U.S., Australia, Canada or the European Union. The crisis of the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal is one of the oldest involving refugees in Asia: in the early 90s more than 100,000 refugees left Bhutan in an exodus that has made Nepal's population one-sixth Bhutanese. The refugees live in seven camps in eastern Nepal (which the Government now intends to gradually reduce). The JRS was among the first organisations to address the crisis, with a focus on ensuring education for children and youth. Bhutan, ruled by an absolute hereditary monarchy, has promoted a national policy based on the principle “one nation, one people”, which penalises ethnic and religious minorities. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 2/4/2011)

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