KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- About 12,000 refugees were without homes Sunday after a fire blazed through a camp in southeastern Nepal destroying more than 1,200 huts, officials told CNN.
Authorities do not yet know definitively what caused the Saturday night fire at the Goldhap refugee camp. A police officer at the scene told CNN that the blaze may have started from a kerosene lamp inside one of the homes.
The makeshift homes are made of bamboo, mud and thatch. The fire left only 300 of the more than 1,500 homes standing, said Home Ministry spokesman Mod Raj Dotel.
The government has offered $50,000 in relief to the refugees left without homes in the fire. The Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office are assisting with tents and non-food items.
The refugees of ethnic Nepalese origin have been living in the camps since 1992 after Bhutan's government expelled them because it says they are non-nationals.
Bhutan is considered one of the world's most isolated countries and the government strictly regulates foreign influences, including tourism, to preserve the country's Buddhist culture.
Bhutan allegedly stripped the minority ethnic Nepalis of their citizenship and forced them into exile in an attempt to create a homogenous culture, according to the independent non-governmental group Human Rights Watch.
Many of them have taken up arms and have launched a violent Maoist rebellion, the group said. Bhutan and Nepal are separated by a strip of land belonging to India.
Last April, the United States announced it had come to an agreement with Nepal's government to resettle 60,000 Bhutanese refugees. That plan has divided the refugee community living in the U.N.-run camps in Nepal. They disagree over whether it is best to return to Bhutan or be resettled in the United States. E-mail to a friend
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