(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Fire-affected Bhutanese refugees face hardship

Thousands of refugees are forced to live in tents until they get proper housing
James Giambrone/WFP

About 8,000 Bhutanese refugees are struggling to cope after the fire which destroyed most of their homes at Goldhap camp in eastern Nepal on 2 March.

Lack of proper shelter, latrines and health care (rather than food and clothing) are the most immediate problems facing refugees after about 90 percent of the 1,512 homes at the camp were burnt down, according to refugee leaders and aid workers.

“The situation is terrible for the refugees and it may take a long time before they are able to get proper housing,” refugee Indra Timilsina, told IRIN on 5 March from Goldhap camp, one of seven camps in eastern Nepal which have been sheltering some 108,000 Bhutanese refugees for the past 17 years. The camp is in Jhapa District, nearly 500km southeast of Kathamndu.

Timilsina said all the fire-affected refugee families had had to take shelter in makeshift tents - plastic sheets attached to bamboo poles.

According to UNHCR, help and support are being provided regularly from many quarters - the Nepalese government, the local population, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and UN agencies.

However, aid agencies said rebuilding the camp infrastructure and houses would require a lot of resources and manpower, and it might, therefore, take over two months to build new homes for the refugees.

“The refugees are going through difficult times and our staff are working around the clock to help them,” said Marceline Rozario, head of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Nepal, an international NGO helping Bhutanese refugees.

Threat of disease

Recent heavy rain and cold weather are causing problems, especially for pregnant mothers and children who are most vulnerable to diseases, according to NGOs.

Photo: James Giambrone/WFP
Refugees are concerned about the health of children and pregnant women

They said there had been no serious disease outbreaks so far, but cautioned that living in such cramped conditions with poor sanitation was conducive to the spread of disease.

Health workers in the camps also warned that lack of proper sanitation could contaminate water resources - more latrines are needed. Thousands of refugees are using only 30 latrines built so far with the help of LWF.

“Sanitation is a challenge at the moment and we are trying our best to help the refugees,” said Rozario.

Nirmal Rimal of the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (AMDA) Nepal, told IRIN from the camp that they were alert to the possibility of epidemics and working to prevent them.

AMDA is the main agency focusing on health in the camps. Its officials said most attention was being given to children, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases who need regular medication.

With manpower and resources in short supply, AMDA had to use health volunteers and workers from other Bhutanese camps after its 33 refugee medical staff also lost their homes in the fire and were unable to work.

“We already have a good contingency health plan should there be any disease outbreak,” said Rimal, adding that there was an urgent need for starting mobile clinics.


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