A massive fire broke out Thursday morning in a crowded Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, southern Bangladesh, destroying hundreds of crumbling camps there, and forcing thousands of Muslim refugees to flee for their lives in the cold of winter.
There have been no reports yet about casualties or the cause of the fire, which comes at a stage in which the Bangladesh government is working to deport tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar to an isolated and vulnerable island in the Bay of Bengal.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that the fire “destroyed or destroyed more than 550 homes housing about 3,500 people, as well as 150 shops and facilities belonging to a non-profit organization.”
Regarding the cause of the fire, the UNHCR stated that security experts are cooperating with the authorities in the investigation to find out about him, adding that there are no reports of casualties.
Pictures and video recordings provided by a refugee in Nayabara camp showed families – including children – moving through the burning debris, in an attempt to save anything from the still smoky homes, but little was left in the camp.
“The fire broke out in Nayabara camp in Tecnaf in the province in the morning, and it came to more than 500 makeshift homes, most of which are made of bamboo panels and polyethylene panels,” said Saif Al-Islam, official of the local administration in Cox’s Bazar.
He added that no injuries were reported after the fire, which took firefighters more than an hour to extinguish.
Saif al-Islam said that the cause of the fire has not been determined yet, adding that more than 3,000 people were living in those tents.
Mohamed Shams Al-Doha, deputy government official in charge of refugee affairs, said that the fire service took two hours to put out the fire, but it was disrupted by the explosion of gas cylinders inside the homes.
The “Inter-Sector Coordination Group” – a humanitarian organization working with refugees gathered in Cox’s Bazar – says that about 550 shelters were destroyed in the fire, in addition to shops and other facilities.
Witnesses said that the flames spread quickly from one side and covered the entire camp, while people in the neighboring camps also fled because of the fire.
Refugee Halima Khatun – who lives in the camp with her two children and her husband – said, “When I opened my eyes, I saw fire everywhere,” adding that she had lost everything in the fire. “The sky turned red, and smoke was everywhere.”
Khatun, 34, fled from Rakhine State in neighboring Myanmar in 2017 and gave birth to her second child in the camp. She said that she had turned her small hut into a home for her family, but now she and her family members have no food to eat and nowhere to go.
More than a million Rohingya refugees live in camps on the mainland in southern Bangladesh, and most of them fled Myanmar in 2017 after a military campaign that included killings, rape and arson against them.
The UN investigators said that these operations were carried out with genocidal intent by the government and the masses of Buddhists who form the majority in Myanmar.
The town of Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh has become a haven for Rohingya refugees fleeing the genocidal campaign of the Myanmar army, and settlements there have turned into huge camps as the massive influx of desperate people fleeing persecution continues.
A few weeks ago, the Bangladeshi authorities began deporting groups of Rohingya refugees to the low-lying island of Bhasan Shar in the Bay of Bengal (Reuters)
Save the Children’s regional director in Bangladesh, Ono Van Manen described the fire today as “yet another devastating blow to the refugee Rohingya Muslims”.
He explained that since 2017, more than a million refugees – half of them children – have lived in cramped camps with little freedom of movement, have been deprived of education, and suffer from abuse, including child marriage.
He reported that a similar fire broke out in May of last year, turning 400 Rohingya refugee camps to ashes in the nearby Kutupalang refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.
With the population growing and new shelters built over time, officials say it is difficult for firefighters to move around in informal areas.
Today’s fire comes weeks after the Bangladeshi government deported several thousand Rohingya refugees to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal despite protests by rights groups saying some of the deportations were forcible.
The deportation process also comes from refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to the low-lying island of Bhasan Shar in the Bay of Bengal, despite complaints from refugees and human rights groups that some of them may have been forced to leave.
The island to which the refugees were transferred appeared on the surface only 20 years ago and was not inhabited before, and was flooded with monsoon rains.For continuous floods and hurricanes.