Bangladesh's Rohingya refugee camp engulfed in flames


Flames tear through the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (Ro Yassin Abdumonab/Reuters)

According to a fire official and the United Nations, a large fire swept through a Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, leaving thousands homeless.

The fire, which broke out on Sunday, destroyed or damaged at least 2,000 cottages, according to authorities from the Balukhali fire department who spoke to Al Jazeera.

The fire broke out in Camp 11 in Cox's Bazar, a border district where more than a million Rohingya refugees reside, most of whom fled Myanmar in 2017 due to a military-led crackdown.

Al Jazeera's Tanvir Chowdhury reported from Dhaka that the Balukhali camp is one of the 32 camps in Cox's Bazar.

At least fifty per cent of the population is comprised of women and children, according to Chowdhury, who added that fire and rescue authorities have not yet recorded any losses but are currently searching for individuals.

He explained that where the fire started was pretty hilly, making it difficult for rescue services to access the area and for families to flee.

"The health facilities [in the area] are extremely primitive, preventing a quick response. "There are numerous field hospitals, but not enough to treat 1,2 million individuals," he added.

Regina De La Portilla of the UN refugee agency told Al Jazeera that most shelters in the camp are built of bamboo and tarps.

"The materials we use in the camps are all temporary and flammable, and due to the dense nature of the camps, fires spread rapidly," she explained.

Dealing with trauma

Firefighters, aided by local volunteers, could contain the inferno. Still, Portilla reported that one-third of the camp's population had lost their houses and belongings and that the United Nations offered mental health assistance.

"We have deployed 90 community health workers [also refugees] who have been trained to provide first aid and psychological support, and if someone requires additional assistance, they are referred to health services equipped to handle this type of mental trauma," she said.

What the impacted refugees will do for shelter is unclear.

Over several decades, more than one million Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, including about 740,000 who crossed the border in August 2017 when the Burmese military launched a deadly crackdown.

After the military coup in 2021, conditions in Burma have deteriorated, and attempts to send them back have failed.

The United States declared in 2017 that the persecution of the Rohingya in Burma constitutes genocide after US authorities corroborated reports of widespread crimes committed by the military against civilians as part of a systematic campaign against the ethnic minority.

The predominantly Muslim Rohingya are subject to significant persecution in the Buddhist-majority nation of Myanmar, where the majority are denied citizenship and numerous other rights.

Publish : 2023-03-06 10:15:00

Give Your Comments