On Tuesday, March 23, 2021, the United Nations announced that 15 people have so far been killed and 400 others missing, after a massive fire broke out in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh.
About a million Rohingya Muslim minority from Burma live in miserable conditions in camps in Cox’s Bazar region.Counting fleeing their country Following a military operation by the Burmese army in 2017, UN experts concluded that it was carried out with “genocidal intent”.
A devastating fire in a Rohingya refugee camp
The fire broke out on Monday, March 22nd. And it left at least 50,000 people homelessAfter the fire destroyed their fragile huts made of bamboo and tarpaulin, according to police and aid groups. The panicked families fled with whatever possessions they could.
This fire is the latest in recent weeks, and the largest since 2017. Bangladesh has ordered an investigation into the accident. Refugee Amin al-Haq said, “People ran for their lives with the fire spreading quickly, many were injured, and I saw at least four bodies.”
While Johannes Van Der Klau, the UNHCR representative in Bangladesh, told reporters in Geneva via a video link from Dhaka, “What we saw in this fire is something we have not seen before in these camps, it is huge, it is devastating.”
“So far, we have confirmed that 15 people have been killed, 560 injured, 400 are still missing, and at least 10,000 huts have been destroyed. This means that at least 45,000 people have been displaced, and we are now looking for temporary shelter to host them,” he added.
Officials said that the fire appeared to have started in one of the 34 camps that were built on an area of 3,237 hectares of land, before spreading to three other camps despite desperate efforts to extinguish the fire.
While video footage spread on social media showed plumes of smoke rising from the camps, while workers and men tried to control the fires and take the refugees to safe places. The firefighters succeeded in controlling the fire around midnight.
Barbed wire added to their suffering
Police Inspector Ghazi Salah El-Din stated that the fire was small at first, but it is Soon he borrowed and moved to other campsAfter exploding gas flasks used for preparing food.
Meanwhile, Rohingya refugee Muhammad Yasin who was providing assistance to firefighters said the fire lasted 10 hours, the worst he had seen since 2017.
Taiba Begum, a volunteer with Save the Children, said, “People were screaming and running in all directions, and children were also screaming and calling for their families.”
The International Refugee Organization said in a statement, “There are a large number of children missing, and some of them were unable to flee because of the barbed wire that was set up in the camps.”
Myo Min Khan, a Rohingya refugee, confirmed this, writing on Facebook, “We were unable to flee because of the fence, and my youngest daughter was severely injured.” AFP was unable to independently verify the allegations about the fence.
The police rejected these accusations, saying that only a small part of the camp is fenced in.
“This tragedy is a shocking reminder of the fragile situation of Rohingya refugees caught between the increasingly unstable conditions in Bangladesh and the reality of a nation now ruled by the army responsible for the genocide that forced them to flee,” the organization said.
The third fire in 4 days!
The International Organization for Migration of the United Nations said it pledged $ 1 million for relief efforts, but another $ 20 million would be needed to meet the most urgent needs.
This is the third fire to hit the camps within four days, an official in the fire service told AFP, adding that the causes of the fires are still unknown.
Other officials indicated that, on Friday, two separate fires broke out in the camps, killing dozens of huts.
In addition, two large fires broke out in the camps in January, displacing thousands of people and destroying 4 schools belonging to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Saad Hammadi, from Amnesty International in South Asia, tweeted, “The recurrent outbreak of fires in the camps occurs in a way that is often coincidental, especially when the results of previous investigations into the incidents have not been reached.”
While the Rohingya leader, Sayed God, called for an immediate investigation, he said, “It is not clear why the incidents of fires in the camps recur. There is a need for a transparent and complete investigation.”
Meanwhile, the government is pressing for the transfer of refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, saying the camps are overcrowded. So far, 13,000 Rohingya have been transported to this island, which is prone to deadly floods and hurricanes, according to some critics.