Nepal: aid delayed is assistance denied
24 March 2011

Fire fighters tackle the last of the blaze in Goldhap camp, Nepal, (DB Dhakal/ UNHCR)
"It was a heart breaking sight. In the midst of smouldering homes and melted kitchen utensils, refugees were desperately rummaging through the rubble hoping to find their lost valuables...", continued Fr Amal.
Jhapa, 23 March 2011 – The Jesuit Refugee Service has issued an appeal for urgent assistance after two fires destroyed more than 700 homes in two refugee camps in eastern Nepal. Although no one was seriously injured, more than 5,000 people were left homeless.

"It's hard to believe that two fires could take place on the same day in two refugee camps. We are still gathering data on the consequences of the fire; but we really need financial assistance for the relief operation we have planned", said JRS Nepal Director, PS Amal SJ.

The fire in Goldhap camp is believed to have started in one of the homes at around seven o'clock Tuesday morning. With the strong winds, the fire quickly spread through the overcrowded camp. Within 90 minutes, 512 of the 605 homes had been reduced to ashes.

"As we were helping out in Goldhap, we heard there was another fire at Sanischare camp. Initially we didn't believe it. The fire had broken out in one of the homes in Sector B/2 and within 45 minutes 180 homes had been destroyed", added Fr Amal.

Nearly 3,800 of the 4,355 refugees in Goldhap, and 1,200 out of the 12, 590 refugees in Sanischare, lost their homes to the fire.

Goldhap camp

Despite the immediate response of the JRS Nepal team, followed shortly afterwards by the fire brigade, there was little that could be done to recover the loss.

Moreover, the JRS Child Play Centre and Youth Friendly Centre, as well as the health centre run by the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia, (AMDA) had been completely destroyed, as was the equipment in the JRS Palliative Care Centre. Fortunately, the JRS school, a permanent structure made of bricks and tin-sheet roofing, was not damaged and is now housing approximately 3,000 refugees.

A government-led committee was immediately established to coordinate emergency assistance, and NGOs and UN agencies agreed to contribute to the relief efforts. As JRS and Caritas manage the provision of education in the camp, they agreed to assume responsibility for 78 students due to take public examinations next week. JRS will provide the students with board and lodging, as well as educational materials.

JRS Nepal has also provided basic food supplies to 3,800 survivors, including high protein biscuits for very young babies.

Relief services

Approximately 50 members from the JRS Youth Friendly Centres, based in six camps, have volunteered to deliver food and other relief supplies – particularly to older and ill refugees, as well as persons with disabilities – and provide first aid in cooperation with AMDA.

The Red Cross Society has provided blankets, clothing, and cooking materials. AMDA has established a temporary health centre in a makeshift tent. LWF is providing drinking water and sanitary equipment, and the UN World Food Programme has promised to deliver additional food rations.

Sanischare camp

By the time the fire brigade arrived, initially delayed by the Goldhap fire, it was too late. Again the fire had no trouble spreading from home-to-home in yet another congested camp.

"It was a heart breaking sight. In the midst of smouldering homes and melted kitchen utensils, refugees were desperately rummaging through the rubble hoping to find their lost valuables. We have opened our schools as shelter to these people; it's the least we can do. We don't know when their homes will be rebuilt or when life will get back to normal", continued Fr Amal.

"They may have a place to stay in the school and food for the night, but few will be able to sleep after losing everything they have earned in the last 20 years. Fortunately, on Monday we had shifted 151 year-ten students to the Beldangi camps to sit their public exams. We'll take care of them there so they can sit their exams in peace", explained Fr Amal.

Resettlement

Due to the ongoing resettlement of Bhutanese refugees to industrialised nations, Goldhap camp was scheduled to merge with the three Beldangi camps at the end of June. Sanischare was also expected to incorporate refugees from nearby Khudunabari camp next January.

According to recent government statistics, more than 36,000 Bhutanese refugees have been resettled in third countries. Of those resettled, the overwhelming majority, more than 31,000 have gone to the US, with Australia and Canada accepting some 2,000 each. The remainder have gone to Denmark, New Zealand, Norway and the UK.

The refugees have been divided into two categories – favouring resettlement and willing to be repatriated. Less than 20 percent of the initial Bhutanese refugee population in camps in eastern Nepal have not expressed an interest in moving to a third country. Most of this group continues to hope that some day they will be allowed to return home.

"One wonders what type of temporary shelters UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] will provide for the refugees. The Goldhap fire was huge, as will its impact be on the victims. Relief needs to be provided to these people regardless of whether they have opted for resettlement", said Fr Amal.

Before the fire JRS was providing education service to more than 30,000 refugees in seven camps throughout eastern Nepal. These services incorporate inclusive education into JRS vocational and teacher training, as well as in childcare, youth and disability centres.

Click here to support the JRS Nepal emergency relief response.



Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
international.communications@jrs.net
+39 06 6897 7465