Fire and the Bhutanese Refugees


Men discovered fire out of great and indispensable need, ages ago. It is the most basic need of mankind. Everyone knows the uses and boons of fire; that it is a good servant and a bad master. Over the past years, Bhutanese refugees have been witnessing and experiencing both aspects of fire. It is apparently okay to be its master at all the times but what it is to be the target of it being a bad master is crystal clear to all. Its devastating and cruel effects are not alien to us. And, although we are quite aware of its worst outcomes; it has been after us as a misfortune is; that is said doesn’t come blowing a whistle or an alarm. All we can do is adopt and resort to safety measures by all means. Are we doing so? May be and maybe not.

Taking into account our type of stay in the camp and the materials that are used to make our shelters; agencies such as Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Nepal, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Camp Based Organizations(CBOs) have been carrying out awareness programs and campaigns time and again, especially at the times when we remain prone to the hazards of fire incidents. However, call it a bad luck or the destiny of Bhutanese Refugees, fire has been causing havoc to them almost every year. Yes, that which happens accidently is not within our reach and control. But what about the safety and preventive measures that we can embrace to avoid falling victims to such incidents that cause irreparable loss of lives and properties.

At present, the widespread wish of the refugees opting for third country resettlement is to get resettled in the shortest possible time with the supposed thought of escaping such fire havocs. The sentiment of them can be anybody’s empathy for them. But it is obviously a wishful thought only; resettlement process may probably take some years to come. On the other hand, those opting for repatriation or local integration may have their stay prolonged in the refugee camps. At such a state, it is high time the refugees themselves understood the exact condition of their sheltered lives and took necessary measures to keep themselves safe and secured from the fire hazards.

While it may not be possible and feasible for the concerned agencies to manage everything for the refugees to help them, avoid being fire victims. And, refugees are ever grateful for what they already have been doing and implementing for the sake of refugees’ safety and security. So at this juncture; what can the refugees do; for themselves and by themselves.

  • Remain alert and aware; 24 x 7: Every refugee, especially the head of the family need to remain conscious and sure-shot that there is not at all any possibility of fire cases in the hut. That the sources of fire have been properly doused, switched off or extinguished after the use. A strict check up and supervision need to be made to other members in the family, mostly the children to ensure they are not playing with fire or miss-utilizing the fire.
  • Familiarization with the sources of fire: At present it is not only the coals, fire woods, kerosene that are used as cooking fuels. Refugees who are able to afford are also using gas cylinders. However, every member in the family may not be fully familiar and aware of the function and mechanism of the cylinders and cooking stoves. In such situations, every member of the family needs to be oriented and familiarized with the functions and usage of the gas cylinders and stoves.
  • Power Supply and Cylinders: Also to be aware of is the electrical connection, goods and devices that the refugees have and possess for their convenience and entertainment.

What would also be of great importance is the proper monitoring and regulation of the power connections in the camp from the local areas and the purchase of gas cylinders. Wouldn’t it be proper and effective to implement certain restrictions and regulations on the unauthorized supply and demand of power connections and gas cylinders? This way the refugees in possession of power connections and cylinders would feel more responsive and obligatory.

  • Fire Fighters/Rescue Teams: Although the agencies have provided trainings and orientations on fire fighting and rescue operations; people with such rescue skills either are away from the incident- area or lack the adequate number to combat the disaster. At such a scenario, it may be wise and advisable to train and orient more people, comprising both males and females, capable of combating the sudden and unprecedented incidents of fire in each and every sector/units. What has been observed so far is that people tend to carry their important and urgent belongings to a safer place once they hear or know about the fire-incident. While others are seen to be a silent-spectators or rather busy themselves videoing the fire-disaster. Many of course are out of their wits; nervous and shaken by the incident. At such times; it becomes relevant and sensible to induce courage and confidence to the refugees on the possibility of dousing the fire when it is at its initial stage. So that people may attempt and co-operate each other to avoid and stop the formidable reduction of huts and their belongings into mere ashes.
  • Household preparedness: In every household, it would be proper to remain pre-prepared, prior to the incidents of fire. For instance, arrangement of stock – water in big buckets, drums and galloons can be made. So in case the fire occurs, there is some water – stock in every household, quite handy to douse the fire if in its early stage. Plantation of vegetation like banana also has proved to be helpful in bringing the fire under control. The banana leaves and the stems have proved to be good fire-repellant. It absolutely becomes the duty and responsibility of every household to think of and pre-arrange any of the suitable things and materials that can help minimize the growth and wider spread of fire.
  • Huts’ Proximity – In most of the sector/units; the huts are close and clustered. This apparently has made the spread of fire easier and quicker. Now that the size of refugees has declined; it is worth-while and considerable to regulate the structure and the space of the huts in the camp. Annexation and extension of the huts to suit the need of the refugees have to be supervised and monitored. There should not be any unauthorized and free construction of the huts that would breach the regulation and the criteria set by the concerned agency.
  • Unity among Refugees: There has always been the feeling of oneness and compatriotism among the refugees. They have lived harmoniously over the past years. But some of the incidents have shown that all do not harbor such sentiment. Often we hear about the cases of theft and loss of properties, both cash and kind during the fire-incidents. How inhuman of us to involve ourselves in such acts when just one of us is at a crisis and critical state? It is time we reminded ourselves again that we are the birds of the same feathers and need to cooperatively flock together. We need to be helpful and supportive to one another, especially at the hours of need and crisis.
  • Never say Never: Well, finally if you are thinking that you may never become a fire-victim, then you are absolutely wrong. Who knows, you might be the next victim. So let us come together; work hand in hand and save and protect ourselves from the fire-led disasters in the days ahead.

The views expressed above are solely personal and just only an attempt made to suit the purpose. It may therefore not suffice to meet the exact essence of the subject matter for which the writer is apologetic.