BANGLADESH: In the early hours of Sunday (7 Jan), a devastating fire tore through a Rohingya refugee camp located in southeastern Bangladesh, near the border with Myanmar.
The flames engulfed Camp 5 in Cox’s Bazar, destroying approximately 800 shelters and displacing thousands of Rohingya refugees.
Social media circulated videos depicting the intensity of the fire.
Prompt response from fire service officials and Rohingya volunteers managed to bring the blaze under control within three hours of its outbreak, shortly before 1 a.m. local time.
However, the aftermath revealed extensive damage, with homes and additional facilities, including learning centers, reduced to ashes, as reported by Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in Cox’s Bazar.
Fortunately, no casualties were reported due to the fire, providing a silver lining amid the disaster.
Mohammad Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official overseeing refugees, assured that immediate arrangements were made to provide affected individuals with food and temporary shelters.
According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), nearly 7,000 Rohingya refugees have been left homeless by the blaze, and approximately 120 facilities, including mosques and healthcare centers, suffered damage.
The catastrophe adds to the challenges faced by the already vulnerable Rohingya population, with many having sought refuge in Bangladesh since the military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017.
Despite the scale of the tragedy, the cause of the fire remains unknown.
UNHCR emphasized that the government authorities have pledged to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.
Shafiqul Islam, the head of the Ukhiya Fire Station, shared that the fire began around midnight at the Kutupalong camp in Ukhiya, quickly spreading aided by strong winds.
While the cause is yet to be officially confirmed, preliminary reports from refugees suggest a mud oven may have sparked the devastating blaze.
As the affected Rohingya grapple with the loss of their homes and essential facilities, the international community watches closely, with humanitarian aid and support expected to pour in to alleviate the suffering of those impacted by this tragic event.
Rohingya refugee camps face persistent fire threats amidst ongoing crisis and discrimination in Myanmar
The Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh continue to grapple with the recurring threat of fires, a peril exacerbated by the crowded and makeshift structures that characterize these settlements.
The risk intensifies during the dry season, spanning from November to April, when fires become more frequent occurrences.
The challenges posed by these blazes are compounded by the densely populated camps, where makeshift shelters provide limited protection against the destructive force of flames.
In a stark illustration of the vulnerability of these settlements, a significant fire engulfed Kutupalong camp in March 2023, one of the largest refugee settlements globally.
The blaze resulted in the destruction of 2,000 shelters, underscoring the persistent challenges faced by the Rohingya community residing in these camps.
The deteriorating conditions in Myanmar since the military takeover in 2021 have further exacerbated the plight of the Rohingya population.
Despite attempts to repatriate refugees, such efforts have proven unsuccessful.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has explicitly stated that the refugees will not be compelled to return forcibly.
Rights groups support this stance, asserting that the current conditions in Myanmar are far from conducive for a safe and dignified repatriation process.
The root cause of the Rohingya refugee crisis lies in the widespread discrimination faced by the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, a country where they are systematically denied citizenship and other constitutional rights.
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