Fire razes Rohingya camp in New Delhi

A fire broke out at the Rohingya camp near Okhla where there are around 226 refugees residing. Most people escaped with only their lives intact; all documents, clothes and food were gutted in the fire

NH Photo
NH Photo

NH Web Desk

Despair has taken over the Rohingya camp at Kanchen Kunj, near Okhla, in New Delhi. Cries of children fill the air. All you can see for miles are black, ashened mounds. A fire, which broke out at the camp at 3 am on Sunday morning where there are around 226 persons residing, razed the entire encampment. Most people escaped with only their lives intact; all documents, clothes, food, utensils turned to ash.

The residents are not sure how the fire began. “We are yet to ascertain the cause of the fire. It began at 3 am. We called the fire station by 3.15 am and they arrived around 3.55 am. Fire tenders took almost four hours to douse the fire in the area where around 60 families live. In the camp all the homes were made of asbestos sheets and they are all completely gutted,” said Ali Johar, a resident of the camp and an UN volunteer.

Johar says that the fire began at the back of the camp where the toilets are. “The toilets were the first ones gutted. The fire spread so rapidly that we got no chance to salvage our belongings. We could barely save our lives. Some of the residents were able to save their documents, but most weren’t. The fire was about to spread to a nearby slum where Indians reside, but by then the fire tenders arrived and they were able to contain it,” adds Johar.

The camp is surrounded by clusters of shanties where people of all religions reside. “We have cordial relations with the people living in the surrounding areas. We celebrated Holi together. We invite each other for marriage functions. So we don’t suspect any foul play,” he maintained, apprehending two possibilities: “either the fire broke out due to a short circuit or those who don’t live in our vicinity could be behind the incident”.

In a display of compassion, several neighbouring residents reached there with breakfast and tea. Efforts are underway to gather clothes, provide alternate shelter for women and children and make arrangements for food.

There are minor injuries among some of the Rohingyas, said Mohd. Shakir, a resident and a petitioner in the Rohingya deportation case in the Supreme Court. “All of us lost all our documents- the papers which we had to prove that we are from Burma, records which would have shown our land in Burma and the identification papers which the UN gave us. The only reason I have my phone is because my wife had the presence of mind to take it. We focussed of rescuing everyone and in that all the documents were lost,” added Shakir.

Near the camp there is a vehicle workshop and garage. An Indian who attempted to save a motorcycle at the garage burnt his hands and was taken to the Apollo Hospital nearby. “We don’t know his condition yet, but he was taken to the hospital,” elaborated Shakir.

Johar—who is pursuing graduation in Political Science from Delhi University through distance education—along with several other refugees like him, had shared their apprehensions with the representatives of UN in the past. “When a UN team visited our camp in January, we had informed it that in case of such eventuality, the fire will burn down every trace of our identity within no time,” he recalled, adding, “We were given five fire extinguishers—but they proved ineffective in dousing the massive fire.”

Previously, several shanties in the camp were gutted in the fire incidents in 2017 and 2012. “No one ever threatened us in the past nearly six years to leave the area. We had been living peacefully and going around doing our jobs. Our people work at the construction sites and factories besides doing other menial work to earn a living,” he said.

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