Thousands left homeless after Nepal fires

KATMANDU, Nepal -- Up to 6,000 refugees from Bhutan were left homeless after fire swept through two U.N. camps in eastern Nepal.

At least 3,000 people were left without shelter and 20 were injured March 22 after a fire in Goldhap camp destroyed about 700 of 800 huts, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. Hours later, two children were injured and several thousand were made homeless in the fire at Sanichare camp.

Jesuit Father Paramasivam Amalraj, Jesuit Refugee Service field director for Nepal, said more than 500 huts were reduced to ashes in 90 minutes in Goldhap camp. He said the fire also burned two Jesuit-run youth centers and a health center.

Father Amalraj said the second fire destroyed about 180 huts in 45 minutes. He said aid organizations such as Caritas Nepal and the Red Cross were working to provide relief assistance to the victims.

Eyewitnesses said the Goldhap fire broke out around 7:30 a.m., and, because of windy conditions, quickly spread before fire crews could arrive. It was not clear how the blaze started.

A local government official said the federal government would give each victim 1,500 rupees ($21).

In 1990, Bhutan began a program of "Bhutanization," enforcing northern Bhutan culture as the official national culture. Language, dress and land ownership codes discriminated against non-Bhutanese minority groups.

UCA News reported that all the refugees in the camps are ethnic Nepalese who fled Bhutan. They said local Bhutanese leaders took their citizen cards, forced them to sign away land and told them to migrate.

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