The U.N. refugee agency says it is providing material assistance and psychological counseling to Sudanese refugees in eastern Chad who were made homeless when their camp burned last Friday. More than 2,000 refugees from Darfur were forced to flee their huts when fire spread through part of the Goz Amer refugee camp. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
Goz Amer is a sprawling camp that houses 20,000 Sudanese refugees from Darfur. Part of the camp is now a smoldering ruin. Last Friday, an unattended cooking fire spread rapidly through one sector of the camp, completely destroying the fragile huts of mud and straw.
The UN refugee agency says the more than 2,000 refugees who were forced to flee are now temporarily housed in three schools at the camp. They will stay there until a supply of family tents arrive in a few days.
UN refugee spokesman Ron Redmond, tells VOA 24 refugees are receiving treatment at the camp's health center for burns. He says most of the injuries are minor, but two women received first-degree burns.
He says at least 15 severely traumatized refugees are receiving counseling at the camp.
"Our staff report that some of those who are homeless are suffering from psychological trauma because this blaze rekindled memories for them of the militia attacks on their villages back in Darfur. Most of these people fled Darfur to Chad in 2003 and 2004 during the time that the Janjaweed were attacking villages throughout Darfur. The normal procedure for Janjaweed in attacking those villages was to burn everything in sight, to burn peoples' houses," he said.
Friday's blaze was fanned by high winds. Besides completely destroying the so-called "I" sector of the camp, two other blocks were partly damaged.
Redmond says this was the first major fire in a refugee camp in eastern Chad. He says the UNHCR is planning to rebuild the camp by using more solid material than the straw and mud from which most shelters are made.
"We are now looking at the possibility of sort of starting a small sort of village level brick making industry that will help people also to get some extra income and then we will rebuild their quarters using bricks," said Redmond.
Redmond says a site planner is going to Goz Amer to look at the possibility of using more fire resistant materials in the reconstruction.
Goz Amer is about 70 kilometers from the Sudanese border. It is the southernmost of 12 camps run by the UNHCR that house 250,000 Darfur refugees, along a 600-kilometer stretch of the Chad-Sudan border.
Redmond says the area is vast and insecure, making it one of the most difficult for the UNHCR.