Massive blaze tears through Rohingya refugee camps
A massive fire ripped through Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on Monday 22nd March 2021, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake, with at least 15 deaths and tens of thousands of already-struggling refugees facing further despair.
The inferno destroyed thousands of shelter homes as the intensity of the flames was fuelled by gas canisters exploding. It was reported that at least 15 people had died – with fears of further fatalities – hundreds injured and 50,000 left homeless.
By nightfall, as a series of smaller fires continued to simmer throughout the camps, authorities said at least 20,000 refugees had fled their homes at the height of the blaze. A preliminary assessment found that more than 900 homes– housing about 7,500 refugees – had been destroyed but this was only a fraction of those left homeless as the true scale of the damage emerged the following day.
Islamic Help has been providing and support for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh since 2017. It includes a medical clinic – one of two we run for partners that provide treatment and medicines for approx. 8,000 patients a month. That clinic was gutted in the massive blaze and two members of staff were initially reported missing but later found safe and well.
Water tankers which we use to supply clean and safe drinking water to 6,000 refugees every day at the camps in Cox’s Bazar were part of the emergency effort to tackle the inferno, as they were used to supply water to fire engines. The emergency effort included firefighters, rescue and response teams and volunteers mobilised by humanitarian organisations.
The fire was reported to have started at about 3.30pm local time (10:30 GMT) on 22nd March and early videos showed thick black smoke billowing from Balukhali Camp 1. As the flames took hold, it ripped through camps 8E, 8W, 9, 10 and 11 at devastating speed – fuelled by the exploding gas canisters which are normally used for cooking – forcing refugee families to flee.
“The locals first tried to douse the fire on their own. But soon it started to spread rapidly,” Lalu Majhi, a Rohingya leader from Balukhali camp, told the Al Jazeera news channel.
Providing hope amongst the devastation
Despite the destruction of the medical clinic, our staff returned the morning after the blaze to provide roadside treatment to injured refugees, while our water tanker was used to distribute supplies of clean drinking water to the affected.
As the scale of the carnage emerged 24 hours after the blaze, UN officials said at least 15 people were killed but there were fears of further fatalities as agencies continued to search the sites. At least 400 refugees had been reported missing, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, and about 50,000 displaced as thousands of shelter homes were destroyed.
It is the second time this year that fire has caused devastation in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. In January, a blaze destroyed more than 550 shelters – home to at least 3,500 people – at Nayapara camp, along with 150 shops.
More than 750,000 Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar in 2017 following a crackdown by Myanmar authorities that the UN likened to genocide. Bangladesh is now home to more than 1 million Rohingya refugees.
Islamic Help has a number of emergency and long term programmes supporting Rohingya refugee communities in Bangladesh. Last year, our donors and supporters provided aid for the equivalent of more than 2.4 million Rohingya refugees.
To support our efforts helping Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, please donate here.