Written by Simar Sangla, a grade 10 student
A fire in the Rohingya refugee camp in Southern Bangladesh has destroyed the camps, killed at least 15, and displaced tens of thousands with 400 people missing.
Who are Rohingyas?
Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim group of 1.1 million people from the Rakhine state in Myanmar. More than 78 percent of households live below the poverty line in Rakhine as it is Myanmar’s least developed region with very few resources.
Ever since independence in 1948, governments in Burma (now Myanmar) gave no recognition to the group and declared them as “ Illegal Bengali Immigrants”. Most of the Rohingyas are children and women, and are more in population than men. But after years, Bangladesh has hosted the refugees in crowded refugee camps and is now eager to send them back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
How did they settle in Cox’s Bazar?
By 2017, the situation for the Rohingya community in Myanmar got worse, which is when they faced brutal violence, rapes, attacks, murders, etc. During September-October of 2017, over 5 Lakh Rohingyas crossed the border into Bangladesh which currently holds the largest number of Rohingya Refugees in the world.
Many Rohingyas also headed to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India in search of food and shelter. Rohingya became the largest stateless population in the world and started to settle in existing camps of Cox’s Bazar, south-eastern Bangladesh.
Cox’s Bazar is the world’s largest refugee camp. It houses nearly 9 lakh Rohingya refugees who have fled Myanmar since 2017. More than half of the population here is children.
What happened with the fires?
On 22nd March 2021, a massive fire broke out in the Rohingya Refugee camp. The cause of the fire is yet to be known. Officials said it was believed to have started in one of the 34 camps – which span about 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of land – before spreading to two other camps. “Authorities are investigating,” said Zakir Hossain Khan, a senior police official. However, some reports and authorities suggest it may have started from a gas cylinder explosion.
The firefighters tried their best to control the blaze but it destroyed hundreds of shelters leaving thousands of people homeless.
“Fire services, rescue and response teams, and volunteers are at the scene to try to control the fire and prevent it spreading further,” said Louise Donovan, spokesperson for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) in Cox’s Bazar, where refugees live in ramshackle huts.
Photographs and video provided to many news agencies by Rohingya refugees in Nayapara Camp showed families, including children, sifting through charred corrugated iron sheets to see if they could save anything from their smouldering homes. But little remained of the camp, which had stood for decades, aside from concrete poles and the husks of a few trees.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said more than 10,000 families lost their homes. The fire also destroyed dozens of learning centers for children, clinics, markets, and aid distribution centers.
Many different aid agencies have landed at the fire site to help everyone affected with construction material such as bamboo, rope, and polythene to rebuild their home once the fire is completely under control.
Many fires came just months ahead of Bangladesh’s monsoon season when cyclones and heavy rains between June and October batter the region and often lead to floods too.
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