Deadly fire erupts at Rohingya camp in Bangladesh

15 people have died while 400 are missing

A massive fire at a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, has been contained. The United Nations refugee agency says 45,000 people have been displaced, at least 15 have died and 400 are missing.

Bangladeshi authorities have said they are looking into the origin of the huge fire as they combed through the rubble for further casualties.

A view of a Rohingya refugee camp after Monday's fire [Ro Yassin Abdumonab/Reuters]
A view of a Rohingya refugee camp after Monday’s fire [Photo by Reuters]
Late Monday, a fire erupted through the Balukhali camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, destroying thousands of huts as people rushed to save their meager belongings.

A large number of those in the camps left Myanmar in 2017 as a result of a military-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, which UN investigators said was carried out with “genocidal intent,” an accusation Myanmar rejects.

The fire – the largest in the crowded settlements since 2017 – tore through flimsy bamboo-and-tarpaulin shelters and grew after cylinders of cooking gas exploded, according to Police Inspector Gazi Salahuddin.

“The source of the fire is still unknown,” Zakir Hossain Khan, a senior police officer in the camps, told Reuters by phone. “Authorities are looking into the fire to see what caused it.”

A Rohingya helping to put out the flames, Mohammad Yasin, told the AFP news agency that the blaze had burned for more than 10 hours and was the worst he had ever seen.

Sanjeev Kafley reported that the fire spread over four portions of the camp, which housed about 124,000 people, or about one-tenth of the area’s more than one million Rohingya refugees.

The Eyewitnesses of the deadly fire

The story of an eyewitness, Saif al-Arqani, to a fire in a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh, shared by BBC, in which he said that ‘I saw people turn to ashes with my own eyes’.

بنگلہ دیش میں آتشزدگی

At the time when the fire engulfed thousands of temporary shelters, 25-year-old refugee Saif al-Arqani entered, the toxic fumes directly to evacuate people alive.

Like many other volunteers, Saif used his jacket and blanket to save the victims.

He is a photographer by profession but at that time he only had his own mobile phone.

He also saved some photos in an emergency. “I was taking pictures but I couldn’t hold back my tears.”

The scariest of his pictures of all, Saif said, was the picture of an infant who was terribly burnt in the fire. His little hands were wrapped around his toy.

Cox’s Bazar, located in southeastern Bangladesh, is home to about 1 million Rohingya refugees. The majority here is the Muslim community that was forced to relocate from Myanmar in 2017 during a brutal crackdown.

Thousands of temporary shelters have been built together in this mountainous area. When a fire broke out in one camp, it engulfed several other camps and the devastation escalated.

بنگلہ دیش میں آتشزدگی

It was three o’clock in the afternoon for Saif when his mother came out of the front door and saw flames rising more than two kilometers away.

“These flames had spread to a height of 100 feet in the air,” says Saif. I immediately got into a taxi and ran to the scene of the fire.

By the time Saif arrived, a crowd had gathered. Many were anxiously deciding which way the fire would spread to the camp.

“I heard people screaming, ‘Save my mother, save my sister.’ It was a scene of destruction. No one knew what to do next. ”

Another refugee, Aminul Haq, reported that “People ran for their lives as it spread fast. Many were injured and I saw at least four bodies.”

Tayeba Begum, also said: “Children were running, crying for their families.”

Appeals to remove barbed wires

According to some witnesses, the barbed wire fence surrounding the camp detained many refugees, causing some injuries and prompting international humanitarian organizations to demand its evacuation.

According to John Quinley of Fortify Rights, a Rohingya rights organization, similar reports have been sent, and the fences have previously disrupted the delivery of humanitarian assistance and essential facilities at the camps.

Quinley added that “the government must remove the fences and protect refugees,”

He continued that “There have now been a number of large fires in the camps including a large fire in January this year… The authorities must do a proper investigation into the cause of the fires.”

The scale of the destruction, according to the humanitarian organization Refugees International, which reported that 50,000 people had been affected by the fire, would not be known for some time.

It was the third fire that erupted at the camps in four days

According to fire brigade official Sikder, who only goes by one name, it was the third blaze to strike the camps in four days.

Officials said that two separate fires at the camps on Friday burned a large number of shelters. In January, two major fires engulfed the camps, displacing thousands of civilians and damaging four UNICEF schools.

Saad Hammadi, an Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, said in his tweet that “Fires in the camps occur all too often, particularly where the results of past inquiries into the events remain unknown and they continue to occur.”

“It’s unclear whether these fire events occur so often in the camps. “It needs a thorough and thorough investigation,” said Rohingya chief Sayed Ullah.

Meanwhile, the government has pushed for the refugees to be moved to a small island in the Bay of Bengal, claiming that the current settlements are overcrowded.

13,000 Rohingya Muslims have so far been relocated to the flood-prone island, which opponents say is also in the face of deadly cyclones.

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