11 deaths reported in Rohingya camp fire
Published: 09:27 PM, 23 March 2021
The government today confirmed deaths of 11 people after a massive overnight fire burnt a cluster of crammed camps of Rohingyas into ashes in Cox’s Bazar in this southeastern district, rendering some 45,000 people homeless.
“Eleven people were killed in the fire as the blaze swept through three Rohingya camps,” disaster management ministry’s secretary Mohammad Mohsin told a news briefing at the beach town of Cox’s Bazar.
He added 45,000 people lost their shelters as the fire burnt into ashes 9,300 makeshift shanties, which the UN and aid agencies call “provisional shelters”.
“The government has constituted a seven-member committee to investigate into the fire while it has been asked to submit a report in next three days,” the top bureaucrat of the disaster management ministry said.
But he could not ascertain immediately whether anyone remained “missing” while the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) earlier today feared some 400 Rohingyas remained “unaccounted for, maybe somewhere in the rubble”.
The government’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Shah Rezwan Hayat told the news conference that the blaze as well destroyed three donor-run hospitals and a police camp.
Mohsin said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inquired about the fire incident and ordered authorities concerned to take necessary measures for the affected people.
“(Particularly) steps have been taken so none of the affected need to starve . . . the FAO (World Food Organisation) is working with us in this regard,” he said.
Mohsin said extra police force was deployed as well to keep order at the scene.
The official government briefing came hours after UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) reported the fire to have killed 15, a figure which is in a subsequent statement said was “based on provisional reports”.
Another UN-backed body, International Migration Organisation (IOM) which also operates at the camp area, said the fire caused “catastrophic damage” at the “world’s largest refugee camp” in Cox’s Bazar damaging as well its largest health centre.
“The loss of the . . . health centre, which served more than 55,000 people in the last year, now further complicates the challenge of responding to COVID-19,” an IOM statement said.
It said the fire that raged through the camps “only slowed once it reached the main roads, slopes, canals and rice fields” while it subsided “not before consuming essential facilities, shelters and the personal belongings of tens of thousands of people”.
“This disaster is a terrible setback that exacerbates the humanitarian needs of refugees in Cox’s Bazar . . . “We will need to start from zero to rebuild,” said IOM’s Director General António Vitorino.
UNHCR spokesman Johannes van der Klaauw said earlier virtually joining a news briefing in Geneva said “what we have seen in this fire is something we have never seen before in these camps. It is massive. It is devastating”.
Both UNHCR and the IOM said they joined the government-led campaign to provide critical support and protection to some 45,000 Rohingya refugees who lost their shelters and belongings in the devastating blaze.
The UNHCR said with an unknown number of refugees having sustained burn injuries, the UN agency provided medical supplies through International Red Cross (ICRC) in support of the management of burn patients.
Bangladesh officials initially reported seven deaths as searches were underway while alongside the shelters, the fire destroyed six makeshift health facilities, including four bigger hospitals.
Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in Cox”s Bazar, who fled Myanmar facing military crackdown, described by UN as textbook example of “ethnic cleansing” and genocide by rights groups.
Over 1.1 million of the persecuted Muslim minority — many of whom escaped a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar have been living in crowded camps in Teknaf upazila of Cox’s Bazar since August 2017.