“The conditions in the camps have always been precarious and both Bangladesh authorities and the international community need to do much more to ensure protection,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said in a brief statement to The Muslim Vibe.
NEW DELHI — A large fire swept refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh on Monday, claiming at least 15 lives and leaving many injured besides destroying at least a thousand shanties.
The blaze forced as many as 50,000 Rohingya refugees to flee and left at least 8000 of them homeless, according to media reports which said it was the third fire incident that struck the refugee camps in four days.
Nearly a million Rohingya Muslims are living in Bangladesh as refugees for the last several years after they were forced to flee genocidal violence in their home country of Myanmar at the hands of Buddhist extremists and the Burmese army.
A fire has broken out in the #Rohingya camps.
Fire services, RRRC, rescue & response teams are at the scene trying to control the fire & prevent further spread.
Humanitarian partners have mobilized hundreds of volunteers w equipment to combat the fire & support those affected pic.twitter.com/gEXfmDdEoj
— UNHCR in Bangladesh (@UNHCR_BGD) March 22, 2021
The fire broke at around 3:30 PM local time inside a hut and quickly spread through the camp, Ali Jinah, an eye witness, told The Muslim Vibe. “Almost the whole camp-9 was burnt down,” he said.
Plumes of smoke billowing from the camp were widely shared by refugee activists on social media to raise calls for immediate help as the blaze raged on for several hours.
“When the fire started people were screaming,” said Ro Yassin Abdumonab, a Rohingya photographer who filmed the inferno. “Most people saved themselves by running out from shelters as the fire raged on but some children and old people got stuck and died.”
The United Nations aid agency for children, UNICEF, in Bangladesh, said that children were among the injured, adding that the protection of the children was its top priority even as hundreds of children were still missing till last reports came.
Gazi Salahuddin, a police inspector, was cited by news agency AFP saying that the fire was initially small and confined to a narrow strip, but it grew and raced to other camps after gas cylinders used for cooking exploded.
Jinah said that the response of the aid workers was delayed as he described the gravity of the situation created by the blaze. “Now, most people are without shelter. The place is crowded. I do not know where these people live now,” Jinah said.
Jinah shared gruesome photos of children with blisters and burn marks covering their bodies. The bodies of those who died were completely charred.
Some blamed wired fences that encircle the camps for the deaths due to fire, arguing that refugees could not run out to save their lives.
Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Monday that the government, UN, and NGO response teams were on the ground “doing their best to stop the fire and limit damages.”
Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, a humanitarian organisation, said it sent its staff and volunteers to rescue and support the affected people.
The devastation comes two months after a similar fire consumed hundreds of ramshackle shelters, shops, and community schools leaving thousands homeless, though no lives were claimed then.
In recent months Bangladesh had launched efforts for the repatriation of Rohingya but the chances of success diminished following the army takeover in Myanmar in early February.
Despite criticism by Human Rights groups, the Bangladesh government has relocated batches of refugees to Basan Char, a desolate island, arguing that It was a step towards de-populating the crowded camps.
The regular fire incidents in the camps point to the failure of the government, aid agencies, and international organisations to ensure that the refugees live with a sense of safety.
“The conditions in the camps have always been precarious and both Bangladesh authorities and the international community need to do much more to ensure protection,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said in a brief statement to The Muslim Vibe. “The ongoing abuses by the Myanmar military means that the Rohingya refugees may not be able to safely return and their rights should be protected until then.”
To learn more about where you can donate to help Rohingya refugees in the aftermath of this horrific fire, follow the charity organization Restless Beings here.