Field Report: Fires Ravage Overcrowded Rohingya Refugee Camps Again and Again

03 May 2022

Coxs Bazar, Bangladesh

A mother wails with grief as the charred remains of her toddler is sifted from the ashes of what used to be Rohingya refugee camp 5 after yet another massive fire has ripped through the overcrowded camp, destroying over 700 shelters and forcing 11,000 people to become homeless once again. The Rohingya people fled a genocide in Burma to neighboring Bangladesh, where they have lived like sardines in some of the world’s largest and most densely-packed refugee camps. When a fire starts and gets out of control, the bamboo and tarp shelters incinerate quickly and the fire spreads, often more quickly than people can run.

This isn’t the first huge fire to destroy Rohingya refugee camps; unfortunately these camps experience many devastating fires annually, killing people and destroying shelters. Then, when the monsoon rains come, these same camps experience flooding and shelters are washed away. In this most recent fire, on 8 March 2022, five children were killed and 82 others were injured as a result of the fire. It took local fire teams over three hours before they had the fire under control.

“Our lives continue to be in limbo,” one Rohingya refugee said. “In the absence of any meaningful progress towards durable solutions, an entire community is caught in the cycle of repair and loss.” Since 2017, when the majority of Rohingya fled into these camps, there have been over 80 fire incidents recorded and more than 25 Rohingyas have lost their lives in fires.

“When your house is robbed you still at least have four walls and a roof,” another refugee said. “But when these fires break out you are left with nothing.” NGOs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will provide the basics to repair the four walls and roof, but it leaves the people still in need of things like clothing, sleeping mats and blankets, pots for cooking, jars for carrying water, and other common household goods that have been turned to ash in the fire.

There still has been little progress to providing the over one million Rohingya refugees any hope of resettlement or a country they can belong to. Speaking to a Bengali soldier in 2017, he said, “When a friend comes over unannounced, you welcome them into your home and try to make them comfortable. But when that friend stays for one week or longer, there needs to be a new conversation.” Rohingya refugees flooded across the border in 2017 with much attention by the international community and with much hope that their stay in neighboring Bangladesh would be short-lived; but nearly five years into this crisis, they are mostly forgotten by the international community and no major efforts to help solve the crisis of their belonging have been fruitful. They are left in camps that are surrounded by barbed wire fences and armed guards, to exist, at the whim of fires, floods and diseases.

Please pray for the Rohingya, for those who have lost loved ones and shelters in the most recent fires. Pray for a viable solution for the Rohingya people, that they would have a country to belong to and freedom.

Thanks and God bless you,
Free Burma Rangers