• Monday, Nov 29, 2021
  • Last Update : 11:02 am

Rohingya refugee camp fire death toll rises to 11

  • Published at 09:26 am March 23rd, 2021
Rohingya camp fire
Massive fire at Balukhali Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar on Monday, March 22, 2021 Dhaka Tribune

A seven-member committee has been formed to investigate the incident

At least 11 people have been killed and 155 people injured in a massive fire that ripped through Balukhali Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar on Monday.

Over 40,000 shanties in the camp were burned to the ground, displacing thousands of Rohingyas. 

Md Mohsin, secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, was speaking on the tragedy at a press briefing at the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) office on Tuesday afternoon.

He said two major hospitals of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Turkish government were also gutted in the incident.

“We will provide full support to the victims. A seven-member committee, headed by the refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, has been formed to investigate the incident,” the secretary added.

Massive smoke coming out of the Balukhali Rohingya camp at Ukhiya in Cox's Bazar on Monday, March 22, 2021 Dhaka Tribune

Meanwhile, IOM said in a statement that at least 400 people still remained missing.

Also Read- Rohingya camp fire: UNHCR calls for urgent fund

The fire broke out at Balukhali Rohingya camp no 8 and camp no 9 in Cox's Bazar’s Ukhiya at around 4 pm on Monday.

After trying for almost six hours, seven units of the Fire Service, along with the army, police, Armed Police Battalion (APBn) members, Red Crescent team and local villagers, brought the fire under control at around 10pm, said Shamsud Douza, additional commissioner of RRRC.

Abdul Hamid, a Rohingya leader at the camp, said the fire had burned thousands of shanties, including about 500 shanties under his supervision.

The fire also left Balukhali Balibazar, the biggest local market in the Rohingya camp, in ashes. Products worth at least Tk50 crore were gutted in the fire, the Rohingya leader added.

Md Shihab Kaiser, commander of Balukhali 8th APBn, said: "The barracks of APBn 4 were partially burnt in the fire. However, weapons and furniture were safely removed. Apart from Rohingya shanties, several NGO offices, schools and madrasas were also gutted in the blaze.”

Meanwhile, Syed Md Tafhim, Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) official, said most of the huts in four camps – 8E, 8W, 9, and 10 – were burned to ashes. These camps sheltered over 122,000 people in 27,000 huts.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has appealed for urgent mobilization of funds for the continuation of humanitarian activities in the area.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh Johannes van der Klaauw said Monday’s fire would further worsen the situation with respect to the humanitarian response.

Also read - Massive fire at Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar

The UNHCR appealed for $294.5 million for Rohingyas for 2021, but only 16% of it had been met so far, he said.

Thousands displaced

Following the fire, thousands of Rohingyas were seen squatting in the nearby open areas, including the Cox's Bazar-Teknaf highway. Many others took refuge in various educational institutions and local villagers' homes.

Local UP Chairman Gafur Uddin said: "Thousands of Rohingyas have taken refuge in Balukhali Qasim Mia High School in the wake of the fire. Many relatives of these Rohingyas who have taken refuge are missing."

On Tuesday afternoon, they were taken back to the burned campsites. The Bangladesh Army and some other non-profit organizations, including Brac, distributed tents, blankets and other necessary supplies among the refugees.

Aftermath of the fire which broke out at the Balukhali Rohingya camp in Ukhiya of Cox's Bazar on Monday, March 22, 2021 Collected

According to the UNHCR, as many as 45,000 Rohingyas were displaced in the devastating blaze. Refugees who have been displaced are being temporarily accommodated within the camp community.

 “At least 10,000 to 15,000 Rohingya families have been affected by the fire,” said Ukhiya Upazila Nirbahi Officer Ahmad Nizam Uddin.

Ukhiya Fire Service Station Officer Md Emdadul Haque said: “It is difficult to say how much damage was caused by the fire. It should be a lot as an area of more than 1.5-2km has been burned down.”

Origin still unknown

Locals claimed the fire started from a shack inside camp 8.

However, Ukhiya police station Officer in-Charge (OC) Gazi Salauddin said no credible sources had confirmed how the fire started.

He said Rohingyas at the scene were giving different accounts of the fire and blaming one another.

“We will learn about the real reason after investigation,” the police official said.

Residents of Rohingya camp standing in front of the scene as massive smoke engulfs the area Collected

According to a situation report by Brac, based on primary assessment, it is assumed that the fire started from a gas cylinder blast. The power of the blast was so strong that the fire spread within a short period of time. Due to frequent winds, the fire spread rapidly and engulfed the surrounding areas.

Brac, UNHCR start providing emergency supplies

Following the fire incident, Brac mobilized emergency medical teams to provide basic first aid support to the affected people at the safe shelters.

Brac Primary Healthcare Centres in camps 8E and 13 are fully operational and a medical team of 10-12 members has been providing primary health support from the Balukhali Kashemia High School.

Altogether 233 injured people have already been provided with primary and emergency medical facilities.

UNHCR said humanitarian partners had mobilized hundreds of volunteers from nearby camps for the support operation, as well as fire safety vehicles and equipment.

International communities express concerns

Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) said it is deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh left destitute by the massive fire, according to a media statement.

The humanitarian community urged the public to respect privacy of the Rohingya refugee families who have either lost family members or have been impacted by fires. 

“We are calling for a show of compassion and solidarity towards the Rohingya refugee population during this very difficult time,” said ISCG.

IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino expressed concern about the fire. He said in a tweet: “I am deeply concerned by the impact of a terrible fire today in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees are affected. IOM teams and partners are working together to respond to the crisis and ensure the safety and well-being of all.”

Unicef expressed its deepest sympathy to the Rohingyas affected by the fire.

“Unicef and our partners are on the ground addressing the immediate and urgent needs of children and families. Unicef has mobilized health teams for first aid support as well as volunteers to evacuate refugees from their shelters," said Unicef Representative in Bangladesh Tomoo Hozumi. 

Earlier in January, at least 500 makeshift dwellings were gutted in a fire at the Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp in Teknaf, Cox's Bazar.

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