Bangladesh: Rohingya Camp Blaze Destroys the Homes of Thousands of Refugees


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The refugees who lost their homes to the fire are now battling the cold of winter under tarpaulin tents provided as immediate relief by the United Nations refugee body.

A devastating fire on Thursday engulfed hundreds of shanties at Nayapara camp for Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, leaving thousands homeless in the biting cold.

The blaze started at around 2 AM local time and quickly spread, reducing 550 makeshift structures to ashes in minutes. Homes, shops, and a community centre were destroyed in the fire but luckily no deaths or serious injuries have been reported.

According to a statement put out by the Inter Sector Coordination Group, an aid organisation for the Rohingya refugees, some 3,500 refugees have so far lost their homes to the fire.

Media reports said the men from the fire department arrived within two hours. “We reached the area quickly and tried to douse the fire,” Mohammad Abdullah, a Cox’s Bazar Fire Service official, was quoted in the New York Times. “But the fire spread fast and destroyed dwellings.”

But one eye witness Nur Sadek, said: “When the first fire tender arrived at the camp it did not have water, delaying the successful efforts to control the fire.”

Sadek is a 19-year-old Rohingya student living in the Nayapara camp since 2017 after his family and nearly one million Rohingya Muslims fled their homeland in Myanmar for safety from the genocidal violence perpetrated by Buddhist extremists and the country’s army. While living the life of a refugee Sadek picked up skills of photography and poetry. “I try to capture the struggle of refugees here in the camp in my camera and words,” Sadek stated in an interview with The Muslim Vibe.

On Thursday when Sadek roamed around the camp to document devastation he witnessed that not only had the fire burnt down homes it had also separated hundreds of children from their parents who were scrambling for refuge.

Sadek uploaded a series of photographs of refugees; children, men, and women affected by the fire. One photo Nur shared on his Facebook page shows a eight-year-old Mohammad Rayees posing desperately as he sits amidst the rubble.

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“It’s winter season at camp and I feel very cold but warm clothes were burnt last night,” Reyas said.

Another photo of a child is the caption: “I don’t know where my parents are, they told me to wait and protect this material.”

And in yet another photo, a woman with her baby says, “I lost everything in this fire accident but I could save my child and that’s my achievement for 2021.”

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a tweet on Friday said the fire incident is a reminder of the everyday incredible risk faced by Rohingya children and their families: “These families have lost all of their possessions in the middle of a winter season & #COVID19 pandemic.”

The devastation took place at a time when Bangladesh is pressing in efforts for repatriation of the refugees back to Myanmar. Recently the government, in a bid to depopulate the crowded camps, shipped away thousands of refugees, against their wishes, to a remote island called Bassan Char. The controversial move was widely criticized, including by the United Nations, even as the government claimed that the island had all the adequate facilities to host the refugees.

Reports of Bangladesh Forcing Rohingya Refugees Onto Remote Island Sparks Concerns

The Thursday fire has been termed as the worst blaze at the Cox’s Bazar camp. Last year in May, a similar fire incident destroyed at least 400 structures but the refugees allege that the authorities have failed to deploy measures to prevent such incidents. Volunteers hired by a humanitarian group to meet such crises in the camp are said to be poorly equipped and trained.

The refugees who lost their homes to the fire are now battling the cold of winter under tarpaulin tents provided as immediate relief by the United Nations refugee body.

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