Fire Tears Through Rohingya Camp, Leaving Thousands Homeless Once More

Fire Tears Through Rohingya Camp, Leaving Thousands Homeless Once More

The authorities in Bangladesh searched for survivors on Tuesday amid the smoldering ruins of a sprawling Rohingya refugee camp, one day after a fire killed at least 15 people, injured hundreds and left tens of thousands homeless once again.

The carnage at the camp in Cox’s Bazaar, near the border with Myanmar, was the latest tragedy for residents, who have lived for years in its squalid shanties since fleeing their homes in Myanmar in aftermath of a military-perpetrated massacre.

As many as 400 people are missing and many are presumed dead, according to officials at the Inter Sector Coordination Group, an international relief organization that oversees the camp. Some victims, witnesses said, were caught between the blaze and the camp’s barbed-wire perimeter fences.

“Nobody helped us,” said Ro Arfat Khan, 21, who fled Myanmar with his family in 2017 after the military razed their village. “If the Bangladesh government wanted, they could’ve stopped the fire.”

Mr. Khan, who lost a member of his extended family in Monday’s blaze, said the conflagration brought back painful memories of watching his home in western Myanmar burn to the ground.

His family then walked for days before arriving in Bangladesh, where they took shelter under a tarpaulin sheet. They had little in the camp. “Now,” he said, “it’s all gone.”

The fire started around 2 p.m. Monday in one of the shelters, eyewitnesses said. But it quickly grew out of control, fueled by strong winds and hundreds of cooking gas cylinders that exploded as the flames raced across the camp.

Many of those killed, including the 73-year-old father-in-law of Mr. Khan’s sister, were unable to outrun the firestorm. “He was too unwell and couldn’t walk,” Mr. Khan said.

Shahriar Alam, the junior minister for foreign affairs in Bangladesh, said on Tuesday that an eight-member committee would investigate the fire and submit a report in the coming days.

But for many Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, the blaze is another reminder of the international community’s failure to ensure their safety.

“Everything we owned is now ash,” said Ro Anamul Hasan, whose shelter was completely burned down. “This is the second time I lost everything in my life.”

Some of the nearly 100,000 displaced people have sought shelter in nearby camps. Others were seen trying to rebuild shelter amid the ashes of their dwellings, using whatever they could find — bamboo, scraps of plastic and polyethylene sheets.

Any slim hope of an eventual return to Myanmar was further diminished in February, when the military that oversaw the genocidal campaign seized power in a coup.

“This tragedy is an awful reminder of the vulnerable position of Rohingya refugees who are caught between increasingly precarious conditions in Bangladesh and the reality of a homeland now ruled by the military responsible for the genocide that forced them to flee,” the humanitarian group Refugees International said in a statement.

Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting.

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