Massive fire in Rohingya camp leaves 4,200 children homeless

Nearly 800 shelters were completely destroyed in the blaze which struck Camp 5, one of the 33 camps which make the Rohinyga settlement the biggest refugee settlement in the world, with an additional 93 shelters partially damaged, according to the UNHCR. Learning centres, mosques, washing facilities and child friendly spaces were also damaged in the fires.

The fires are a tragic reminder of the deteriorating conditions in the camps, said Save the Children, and the vulnerability of families living in the camps’ flimsy shelters. The thousands of children and their families left homeless by the blaze have been forced to share already cramped shelters with relatives or neighbours, some with over 10 people in a space the size of a large camping tent.

Rasheda* (42), a Rohingya refugee who has five children, told Save the Children after the blaze:

“We were all asleep when the fire broke out. We woke up when we heard the screams of our neighbours after the fire came close to our home. I quickly woke up my husband, elderly mother-in-law, and children – we left our shelter and that saved our lives. Everything has burnt to ashes, and we could not save any of our belongings. We have nothing left to wear this winter.”

Save the Children was on the ground in the immediate aftermath of the fires, coordinating with the Government and other humanitarian actors to support the families made homeless in the disaster. We are providing blankets, floormats, hygiene kits and winter clothes, with Bangladesh currently in its coldest season and temperatures dropping overnight.

Around a million Rohingya refugees are living in camps in Bangladesh after fleeing violence in Myanmar more than six years ago. At least half of them are children.

Shamin Jahan, Acting Country Director for Save the Children in Bangladesh said:

“Rohingya refugee children repeatedly tell us that fires are one of their biggest fears. Tragically once again, thousands of children have had to endure this terrifying reality. Thousands have lost what precious little they had.

“After more than six years living as refugees, families are desperate for a better life. They have no access to work inside and outside the camps and are reliant on aid. The situation in the camps continues to deteriorate with children living in fear of armed gangs and violence – and families resorting to child marriage and child labour to survive. Many are again putting their lives on the line by taking extremely dangerous boat journeys in search of a better future – no child should be taking the risk of weeks at sea with little food and water.

“We urge the Government of Bangladesh and donors to improve the living conditions in the camps by taking urgent action to prevent fires, such as creating more space for shelters, using building materials that are more resistant to fires and improving evacuation procedures. Governments must fully fund the Rohingya response plan which is currently only 50% funded. We need to give children hope in 2024.”

Save the Children is also calling on the international community to support long-term solutions for the Rohingya by working with the Bangladesh government to expand formal employment and educational opportunities for Rohingya refugees and the host community, expanding third party resettlement, improving rights for Rohingya in regional refugee hosting countries, as well as the eventual voluntary and dignified returns of Rohingya to Myanmar when the conditions are safe and their rights can be guaranteed.

Save the Children is one of the leading international NGOs working in the Cox’s Bazar camps in Bangladesh. It has reached about 600,000 Rohingya refugees, including more than 320,000 children, since the response began in 2017.

Save the Children, with the support of the Bangladesh government, is running over 100 centres that support children’s learning and well-being in their mother tongue – Rohingya. Now we are helping these children learn Burmese by using the Myanmar curriculum.

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