Thousands of Rohingya refugees rendered homeless in Bangladesh after massive fire

At least 2,000 makeshift houses were damaged in the blaze, forcing thousands to flee from the refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar

March 07, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Rohingya refugee camp fire Bangladesh
(Photo: IOM Bangladesh/Twitter)

As many as 12,000 Rohingya refugees have been rendered homeless after a massive fire damaged more than 2,000 shelters in the congested refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar on Sunday, March 5. 

The fire started in B-block of camp 11 of Balukhali at around 2:30 pm local time, sending a huge plume of smoke into the air. According to the police, no casualties have been reported so far. The authorities, however, have said that they will not have accurate estimates regarding the extent of the damage for some time, the Dhaka Tribune has reported 

Following the incident, the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed on March 5 that 90 facilities, including hospitals and learning centers, were burnt down in the fire. The situation was also made worse by the barbed wire that surrounds the entire camp, which residents had to cut through or move in order to make their way away from the blaze. 

A number of refugees carrying their belongings and moving for safety were seen removing the barbed wire amidst the chaos. “Many refugees couldn’t bring out their processions because the barbed wire fencing made it necessary for them to take a longer route,” according to Sulaiman, a refugee who survived the Tula Toli massacre in 2017. He told Rohingya Refugee News that he has been rendered homeless after losing everything again.

This is not the first case of fire that has brought devastation to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. In January last year, a similar fire damaged over 1,200 makeshift houses in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, leaving nearly 5,000 Rohingya without shelter. Then, in March 2022, another fire broke out in Kutupalong’s camp 5, as a result of which at least 15 people were burnt alive and at least 50,000 were displaced. 

Between January 2021 and December 2022, there have been 222 such fire incidents across Rohingya camps, according to Bangladesh’s Defense Ministry. Flooding—and the fear of flooding—also compelled some 24,000 refugees to flee the temporary shelter they had been granted in Cox’s Bazar in the summer of 2021, according to the UNHCR.

“My shelter and my shop were destroyed,” Mamun Johar, a 30-year-old refugee, was quoted as having said by AFP

Of the 740,000 Rohingya who were forced to flee Myanmar after being systematically targeted by junta forces, a large number have sought asylum in neighboring Bangladesh. The recent fire also comes just a week after the UN World Food Programme announced cuts in its life saving food assistance vouchers—from USD 12 to USD 10 per person per month—leading to fears of hunger and deprivation among the thousands of Rohingya refugees living across Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.