Bangladesh: Thousands of Rohingya refugees homeless after fire at camp

Fires are common among the cramped, bamboo-and-plastic structures of Bangladesh's refugee camps. But authorities believed the blaze, which coincided with elections, could also be a case of arson

The blaze destroyed homes and also damaged mosques and healthcare facilities. (photo: DW)
The blaze destroyed homes and also damaged mosques and healthcare facilities. (photo: DW)
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Thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh were left without shelter on Sunday, 7 January after a fire tore through their camp in the early hours of Sunday morning.

No deaths were reported from the incident, which occurred at Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar.

"The fire was big, and it destroyed about 1,040 shelters in the camp," local fire brigade chief Shafiqul Islam told the Associated Press.

"We took about two hours to get the blaze under control, engaging 10 fire units from Ukhiya and other stations in the district."

Bangladesh's refugee commissioner in Cox's Bazar, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, said around 4,000 people were left homeless while the local UNHCR office put the number at around 7,000.

The fire also damaged mosques, healthcare facilities and educational centers in the refugee camp.

Local authorities suspect arson

The fire coincided with Bangladesh's general elections on Sunday.

A day before polls opened, police reported a number of suspected arson cases at polling places as well as an incident on a passenger train that killed four people.

"We have ordered a probe into the [refugee camp] fire," Rahman said. "We suspect it is an act of arson."

Fires often break out among the crowded makeshift structures in Cox's Bazar, especially during the dry season from November to April.

One fire in 2021 killed 15 refugees, while another fire last year that destroyed around 12,000 homes.

"The cause of the fire currently remains unknown, and we are assured by the government authorities that an investigation into the cause of the fire will be carried out," the UNHCR said.

Rohingya refugees report ongoing 'suffering'

The majority Muslim Rohingya people face widespread discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship and constitutional rights.

Their persecution has repeatedly been called a genocide. Almost one million people now live in cramped, bamboo-and-plastic structures shelters across the border in Bangladesh.

Most of them fled Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017. "We are suffering from the cold severely, facing a difficult situation," a 65-year-old woman who survived the blaze told the Associated Press.

"Currently, we are sitting by a stream with my grandchildren after narrowly escaping a life-threatening situation. Our homes have been destroyed by the fire."

Violence between rival Rohingya groups has also plagued the camps in recent months.

More than 60 refugees have been killed in turf wars and drug-related clashes last year, according to police.

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Published: 08 Jan 2024, 11:07 AM
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