Fire sweeps through Rohingya camp again, destroying 1,500 homes for refugees

·3-min read
Onlookers gather as smoke and flames can be seen on a hillside after a fire broke out in a Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhia on 9 January  (AFP via Getty Images)
Onlookers gather as smoke and flames can be seen on a hillside after a fire broke out in a Rohingya refugee camp in Ukhia on 9 January (AFP via Getty Images)

At least 1,500 homes were destroyed in southeastern Bangladesh after a fire swept through a Rohingya refugee camp and gutted shanties of the displaced community on Sunday, rendering thousands of people homeless, officials said.

Believed to have started in Camp 16 in Cox’s Bazar, the fire was seen engulfing swathes of land in the district where more than a million Rohingya refugees are temporarily homed. The world’s largest refugee camp has been their safe haven since they fled a military-led crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.

Videos of the incident shared on social media showed hundreds of houses and roofs engulfed by flames, billowing thick grey clouds of smoke as people fled their houses. Many bystanders were seen just metres away from the fire trying to douse it.

The number of casualties and injuries was not immediately clear. However, the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said two people were injured in the incident.

“Everything is gone. Many are without homes,” Abu Taher, a refugee, said. Many refugees reportedly spent the night outside in the January winter. They have also lost important documents, identity proofs, money and their personal belongings in the fire.

Officials said the fire has been brought under control by emergency workers. The cause of the fire is not yet clear, Mohammed Shamsud Douza, a Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said.

Imrul Islam of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who visited the site on Sunday, said many refugees have “lost everything”.

“I spoke to refugees today who have lost everything and only escaped with the clothes on their backs. Over 3,600 refugees have lost their homes, and 600 shelters have been burnt to the ground,” Mr Islam told The Independent. “Refugees I met today told me they are scared, and fearful of what the night might bring.”

He added that essential infrastructure such as fresh water points, latrines and hygiene facilities will need to be rebuilt. The refugee crisis needs the attention of donors, donor governments and regional bodies like ASEAN, who must share responsibility and champion durable solutions to this protracted crisis, he said.

“This is the fifth year of the Rohingya refugee response, and both funding levels and global attention is on a steep decline. Meanwhile, 900,000 survivors of grievous atrocities are living from one emergency to the next, with no end to the uncertainty in sight,” Mr Islam added.

This is the second such fire to have hit the Rohingya camp in Bangladesh within a week.

No casualties were recorded in the fire that broke out on 2 January at a Covid-19 treatment centre for refugees. But the IOM said that significant damage was caused to Severe Acute Respiratory Infection and Isolation and Treatment Center (SARI ITC) in Camp 20 Extension last week.

In March last year a huge fire tore through the camps and at least 15 refugees were killed. More than 10,000 shanties were also gutted in the fire.

The cramped conditions in the camps make large fires a real risk, the IOM said in a statement.

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