10,000 Rohingya shelters destroyed by fire in Bangladesh camp!

0
189
Monday’s massive fire destroyed 10,000 Rohingya shelters

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said that it is ‘deeply saddened at the loss of life and immense suffering caused’ by Monday’s massive fire in the Kutupalong Balukali refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Based on provisional reports, as of Tuesday morning, 15 refugees were confirmed to have tragically lost their lives in the fire.

More than 560 have been injured and an estimated 400 people are still missing.

In support of the ongoing response led by the Bangladeshi authorities, UNHCR, in coordination with IOM and other UN and NGO partners as well as refugee volunteers, is rushing to provide critical support and protection to some 45,000 Rohingya refugees who lost their shelters and belongings in the devastating blaze.

At least 10,000 shelters are estimated to have been destroyed or damaged, but figures are expected to climb in the coming days as assessments continue.

Refugees who have been displaced are being temporarily accommodated within the camp community.

Monday’s was the third fire to hit the settlements in four days.

Nearly one million of the Muslim minority from Myanmar – many of whom fled a military crackdown in their homeland in 2017 – live in cramped and squalid conditions at the camps in the Cox’s Bazar district.

Officials said the fire apparently started in one of the 34 camps – which span about 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of land – before spreading to three other camps, with refugees fleeing the shanties with whatever belongings they could carry.

Thick columns of smoke could be seen billowing from blazing shanties in video shared on social media, as hundreds of firefighters and aid workers battled the flames and pulled the refugees to safety.

‘It is a massive fire. At least 20,000 people fled their homes as the fire spread,’ Cox’s Bazar administrator, Mamunur Rashid, told reporters.

‘We doused the fire in one place and it spreads to other places,’ he added.

A Save the Children volunteer, Tayeba Begum, said: ‘People were screaming and running here and there (and) children were also running scattered crying for their family.’

It was the third blaze to hit the camps in four days, fire brigade official Sikder, who only goes by one name, said.

Conditions at the camp were highlighted by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in a statement last Thursday.

There are currently around 860,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

Most of them live in Cox’s Bazar district.

The activities which Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) carries out for these refugees are centralised around the so-called ‘mega camp’, a large collection of 26 camps.

In recent years, barbed and razor wire fencing was erected.

The living conditions for the refugees keep deteriorating due to Covid-19 measures, among other factors.

Bernard Wiseman is head of mission in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and describes the hard dilemma the Rohingya are facing there.

What is life like in the camps?

There has been a sharp deterioration in living conditions in the refugee camps over the past 12 months.

The presence of police and the military has increased; at the same time, armed groups have expanded their power base in the camps.

As a result, we are hearing about more kidnappings, violence and extortion.

The arrival of Covid-19 resulted in more restrictions on the refugees’ freedom of movement and on access to the camps for international humanitarian groups.

In 2020, services inside the camps were reduced to the bare essentials, and some organisations had to stop working in the camps altogether.

In the early months, our teams had limited access, which led to a reduction in the quantity and range of health services we were able to provide to the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya increasingly face a terrible dilemma.

Many are becoming more and more desperate and hopeless as conditions in the camp continue to deteriorate, which makes them turn to risky choices.

In order to escape, some choose to make the perilous journey on human trafficking boats departing for Malaysia.

Others sign up to be relocated to the remote island of Bhasan Char, despite all the question marks about their future there.

The relocation to Bhasan Char is a consequence of the failure of the international community to provide a solution to what has become a protracted refugee crisis.

What can you tell us about the island of Bhasan Char?

The island of Bhasan Char is a sand bar in the middle of the Bay of Bengal.

It didn’t exist until 2006 and has never been inhabited.

After the 2017 refugee crisis, the Bangladesh authorities imagined Bhasan Char as a place to relocate some of the almost one million refugees who had arrived from Myanmar.

About 14,000 refugees were relocated there since December 2020, while the government eventually plans to relocate around 100,000 people.

However, questions remain about the suitability and sustainability of the island: it is located about 60 kilometres from the mainland and the only available mode of transport to the mainland is a shuttle managed by the Bangladesh military.

There are currently around 20 former MSF patients on the island, and we are still in touch with them.

Their first reaction to living conditions on the island was generally positive.

It’s not difficult to understand why: the buildings are concrete with metal roofs, which is certainly an improvement on the small mud and bamboo structures they have been living in for the past three years.

Overall, the Bhasan Char situation is a symptom of the wider deterioration in living conditions in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. It’s also just one of many issues which the Rohingya have faced for decades.

What are MSF’s concerns about the relocations to Bhasan Char?

From a medical perspective, we are very concerned.

We understand that only very basic primary healthcare is being provided by local NGOs.

As far as we know, secondary and specialist health services are not available.

We don’t know how patients requiring emergency medical care are transferred to hospital from the island, given the fact that it is a three-hour boat ride from the mainland.

There has been very little engagement with Rohingya refugees or health providers in the camps in Cox’s Bazar to discuss how to ensure access to medical care on the island.

We are trying to establish referral networks to ensure continued care to our former patients suffering from chronic illnesses, who require continuous follow-up and medication.

Overall, the Bhasan Char situation is a symptom of the wider deterioration in living conditions in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

It’s also just one of many issues which the Rohingya have faced for decades – an ordeal which includes state-sanctioned violence, persecution, discrimination and the denial of their basic rights.

The relocation to Bhasan Char is a consequence of the failure of the international community to provide a solution to what has become a protracted refugee crisis.

Until a long-term solution is put in place, we will continue to see policies that seek to restrict and contain refugees and prolong the ‘temporary’ and unsustainable nature of the ongoing situation for the Rohingya refugees.