Rohingya camp blaze ‘planned and purposeful act of sabotage’, investigators say

The massive blaze that tore through a refugee camp housing thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh was a “planned act of sabotage”, a team of investigators probing the fire said on Sunday.

Senior district government official Abu Sufian, who is heading the seven-member panel, said the fire broke out in multiple places inside the refugee camp at the same time, confirming it as a planned act.

It was a deliberate attempt by militant groups to establish supremacy inside the camps, the top official said but did not name the accused groups.

He added: “We recommended further investigation by the law-enforcing agency to identify the groups behind the incident.”

The panel’s report concluding that the fire attack was planned was based on inputs from 150 eye witnesses, Mr Sufian said.

The panel has called for a formation of a separate fire service unit for Rohingya camps which have regularly faced the danger of blaze.

Individual blocks of Rohingya camps need to be widened to accommodate fire service vehicles and the construction of a water cistern has also been made in the recommendations.

It added that the camps should use less flammable materials in shelters, among other recommendations.

Humanitarian organisations said that the fire incident was among the worst witnessed in the refugee camps.

“This is the latest in a series of fires that have destroyed swathes of Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in recent months, and one of the worst that we have seen since the camp was established in 2017,” said Adnan Junaid, Asia regional director at International Rescue Committee.

The official also called for “immediate action to be taken to mitigate the risk of this happening ever again”.

“Necessary steps include rebuilding the camps in a safer way, with more space between shelters, as well as the provision of firefighting equipment and safety points throughout the camps. In the longer term, a fire evacuation plan must be established, volunteers trained and a monitoring system put in place,” Mr Junaid said.

The makeshift camps housing Rohingya refugees have witnessed fires often. At least 15 refugees were killed in a massive blaze in March 2021, which destroyed more than 10,000 homes.