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    Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar hit by second fire in 10 days

    CountriesBangladeshRohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazaar hit by...
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    Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar hit by second fire in 10 days

    2022’s second big fire incident in a Rohingya refugee camp has destroyed almost 600 temporary shelters.

    A massive fire broke out in housing camp 16, home to about 800 Rohingya refugee families in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar at about 5 PM local time on Sunday. The fire swept through the refugee camp. No casualties have been reported. Though the flames were contained, the damage was extensive.

    Local authorities say that over 3,600 Rohingya refugees have lost their homes. Almost 600 shelters have been burnt to the ground. Among the homes destroyed are 30 homes of the host Bangladeshi community. All 34 camps put together hold nearly 1 million people.

    Initial reports point to the accident starting off from a wood-fired household kitchen. Some of the aid workers at the camp dispute this because all families have been provided a cooking gas connection. “This was a conscious decision of the government of Bangladesh,” an aid worker said. “Refugees, the world over, tend to cut down wood from nearby areas to cook their food. This is why the government decided to provide the refugees with a cooking gas connection.”

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    Second fire in 10 days

    “This is the second fire in the camps in 2022 and we are only in the second week of January. Our fear is not only about what happened this time, but that future fires will cause even greater destruction and cost lives,” says Roberto Vila-Sexto, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Country Director in Bangladesh.

    The Bangladesh government and the camp managements only allow temporary shelters in the camps. These are often made of highly inflammable material, predominantly bamboo and tarpaulin.

    In overcrowded settlements fenced in by barbed wire, the risk of the next disaster is always high, said a NRC representative. Refugees told aid workers that they had to cut through the wire fencing to escape from the fire.

    NRC has been lobbying and advocating for the removal of the barbed wire fences, saying that these were both, dangerous and undignified for the refugees.

    “We need to provide safe, dignified shelter for refugees using fire-retardant material, and the dangerous barbed wire fencing should be removed that divides the camps and slows the escape of people fleeing the flames,” said NRC’s Roberto Vila-Sexto.

    An earlier blaze occurred last Sunday at the site of a COVID-19 treatment centre managed by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the Cox’s Bazar refugees camp area.

    In urgent need of aid

    Asma, a single refugee mother of three living in the camps, barely escaped with her children, and had to spend the night under the open winter sky. “Everything is gone, we barely escaped with only the clothes on our back,” she said.

    As camp lead, an assessment of the damage and the response to the fire is being led by the IOM.

    BRAC Bangladesh’s leading NGO, together with Bangladesh Red Crescent are leading the work on fixing tented camps for people to spend their nights in. Volunteers had pitched 40 tents till the evening.

    The World Food Programme has distributed fortified biscuits to affected families in the immediate aftermath. WFP will also be providing the affected families with hot meals until they are a position to receive regular food supplies, said WFP spokesperson Antoine Vallas.

     

    Image courtesy : Norwegian Refugee Council

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