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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 09:42 GMT
Fire wrecks refugee camp in Nepal
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Refugees in the Beldangi II Extension camp
The refugees have been living in Nepal since the 1990s
The UN says a fire in Nepal which destroyed most of a camp housing refugees from Bhutan is a disaster.

Officials say 10,000 refugees are now homeless. The cause is unknown.

The refugees are ethnic Nepalese forced out of Bhutan in the 1990s by the government, which was concerned over a Hindu minority in a Buddhist country.

Bhutan and Nepal are at loggerheads over how to solve the problem, although some have been presented with the option of resettlement abroad.

The camp is one of seven which since 1990 have been home to more than 100,000 ethnic Nepalese people from Bhutan.

About 60,000 of them have been being given the opportunity to live in the US.

Isolated kingdom

Aid agencies and the government are sending emergency food, water, temporary shelters and sanitation to the Goldhap camp in south-eastern Nepal.

Eighty-five per cent of it has been destroyed in a fire which spread rapidly through its closely packed bamboo huts.

Bhutanese refugees in Nepal
The refugees rely on food handouts from the UN

The head of the UN's refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, has described the blaze an absolutely traumatic event for the refugees.

Thousands have lost not only their makeshift homes but their belongings, including things like food, clothes, school books and cooking utensils.

They fled the isolated kingdom after its government stripped them of their citizenship, or forced them out because of their protests against new nationalistic regulations.

A refugee told the BBC it was not known whether this fire was an accident or an act of arson.

There are bitter divisions within the refugee community.

Some are now in the process of moving to western countries which have offered to resettle them, but others are holding out for a return to Bhutan.

Some vocal refugee leaders have said that moving to third countries would legitimise what they call Bhutan's ethnic cleansing and many of those wanting to move have been threatened with extreme violence.



SEE ALSO
Violence haunts Bhutan's refugees
07 Mar 08 |  South Asia
Bhutan urged to accept refugees
10 Nov 06 |  South Asia
Breakthrough for Bhutan refugees?
05 Oct 06 |  South Asia
Despair of Nepal's unwanted exiles
30 Aug 05 |  South Asia
Bhutan and Nepal in refugee deal
23 Oct 03 |  South Asia
UN urged to resolve refugee crisis
10 Jul 03 |  South Asia
Bhutan refugees on hunger strike
18 Feb 03 |  South Asia

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