Thousands of Rohingya left homeless after yet another fire breaks out in Bangladesh refugee camp

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An immense fire destroyed a large section of a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on Sunday afternoon, leaving thousands of people without shelter in this camp that is home to around a million Rohingya refugees.


The fire broke out in the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on the afternoon of Sunday, March 5. Images posted on social media show hundreds of homes reduced to cinders as well as families fleeing the fire, carrying the belongings they managed to grab.

No deaths were recorded in the fire. However, more than 2,000 shelters were destroyed in this camp, which is home to about a million Rohingya refugees. After the fires, more than 12,000 of them need to be rehomed.

The fire also destroyed about 30 mosques and educational centres, according to French press agency, the AFP. One of the health centers run by the Bangladesh Red Crescent and some “water networks” were also destroyed, according to this post by an NGO on Twitter.

After years of persecution in neighbouring Myanmar, large numbers of the majority Muslim Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh. The number of refugees exploded in 2017, after a wave of severe repression led by the Myanmar military.

‘Everyone is struggling to find food and water’

Ro Yassin Abdumonab is a photographer who lives near Camp No. 11, where the fire began. Abdumonab, who is Rohingya himself, went to the site of the fire on Sunday, March 5 to make sure his friends there were ok and to document the situation.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to briefly speak to him while he as in Camp 11. We could hear people shouting and rushing around in the background.

The situation right now is really terrible. Around me, everyone is struggling to find food and water. They also want to try and get tarps [Editor’s note: which can be used to protect the shelters in the camp from rain].

Here, there is almost no food and water. People whose shelters were burned have almost nothing, no clothes… and the children are crying out for food and water.

The food aid is taking ages to arrive. Associations are working to organise it all, but it takes time.

The IFRC told the BBC said that they had enough tarps in order to rebuild 50,000 shelters. They said they were working to put in place humanitarian aid as quickly as possible, in coordination with local humanitarian actors.

The fire took place just a few weeks after the World Food Program (WPF) announced that they would have to start reducing the food aid provided to refugees living in the camps in Bangladesh because of a serious shortage of resources. The drop in aid was set to begin on March 1, 2023.

Ro Yassin Abdumonab took this photo of a family who “lost everything” now living in their new makeshift shelter. The family was still lacking in food, water and tarps to provide shelter from the elements. © Ro Yassin Abdumonab


Unicef, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and many of the NGOs that operate in Cox’s Bazar have taken to social media to call for increased aid.

More than 200 fires in two years

Volunteer firefighters trained by the Bangladesh Red Crescent joined firefighters on the frontlines of combatting the fire.

The living conditions for refugees in Cox’s Bazar have become markedly worse over the past few years, leading some Rohingya to flee the camp. A report published by Human Rights Watch in January 2023 documented rampant police violence in the camps.

>> Read more on The Observers: Rohingya refugees risk death at sea to escape Bangladesh camps

Fires are common in the camps in Cox’s Bazar. According to a report by the Bangladesh ministry of defense in February, more than 200 were documented between January 2021 and December 2022, including 60 considered arson. In 2021, 15 people died and a further 400 people disappeared during a fire in the same refugee camp. Violent storms often thrash the camp as well, often leading to serious flooding.

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