A massive fire engulfs Nayapara refugee camp early on Jan. 14, leaving more than 500 makeshift shelters burned and over 3,500 Rohingya homeless. (Photo: Yassin Abdumonab)
State authorities and charities including Caritas have rushed to support thousands of Rohingya refugees in a Bangladeshi camp after a massive fire razed hundreds of makeshift shelters.
A devastating fire engulfed Block E of Nayapara camp in Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar district early on Jan. 14, leaving more than 500 homes gutted and about 3,500 refugees homeless.
No deaths were reported but several refugees were injured before the fire was extinguished by firefighters, police and soldiers, said an official from the state-run Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC).
“The fire was brought under control quickly and thank God no one died, though some were injured,” Mohammad Shamsud Douza, additional commissioner of RRRC, told UCA News.
About 3,500 homeless people have been taken to learning centers (used for child education) and provided with food, clothing and medicines, he said, adding that they are collaborating with aid groups to rebuild shelters as soon as possible.
The cause of the fire in the overcrowded camp is still unknown.
Refugee Mohammad Noor, 37, said his family lost everything in the fire.
“I have been living in the camp with my four-member family for years. We were woken by huge screams and cries that created an atmosphere of fear. We ran out of the shelter, leaving everything behind, and all our belongings have perished in the fire,” Noor told UCA News.
Noor, who moved to Bangladesh with his family following a military crackdown on Rohingya in Myanmar in 2017, has taken his family to stay with a relative.
“We have received good food like rice, oil and lentils and warm clothes and blankets from NGOs, but we lament losing everything. We are still thankful to God for saving our lives,” he added.
An official from Catholic charity Caritas Bangladesh said that everything will be done to assist the rebuilding of refugees’ homes.
“The fire was quite huge but with everyone's efforts it came under control quickly. Sadly, all belongings of the poor people are gone. The government and NGOs are collaborating to rebuild their shelters,” Inmanuel Chayan Biswas, head of operations of Caritas’ emergency response program, told UCA News.
Biswas said the government and aid groups including Caritas have kept ready firefighting tools, water taps, sand and fire teams to control blazes.
“Last year some 400 shelters were burned in fires. Caritas and other NGOs are working on awareness-building programs with Rohingya to protect them from fire,” he added.
Cox’s Bazar district is home to over one million Rohingya Muslims who fled deadly military crackdowns in Rakhine state of Myanmar, mostly after 2017.
Despite living in Myanmar for generations, Rohingya are branded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, persecuted and denied basic rights including citizenship.
Despite Bangladesh and Myanmar signing a repatriation deal in 2018 for the return of refugees, not a single Rohingya has returned to Myanmar. Refugees reject repatriation without concrete promises of safety, citizenship and proper resettlement.