Bangladeshi officials on Wednesday denied information that the barbed wire fence surrounding the Rohingya refugee camps had disrupted relief and rescue work during and after a massive fire at a refugee settlement Accident this week caused at least 11 deaths.
They also rejected the United Nations claim that about 400 people went missing after the Balukhali camp fire, saying many of the people who fled the fire were hiding in neighboring camps in Cox’s Bazar district, crowded. male.
Mohammad Shamsud Douza, an additional commissioner for refugee and repatriation relief, said it took firefighters a long time to put out the fire, not because of the fence but the weather conditions.
“It is not true to say that rescue operations were interrupted due to the barbed wire fence,” Douza told BenarNews.
“Fire extinguishing takes time mainly due to high wind speeds. Moreover, the fire is spreading fast because the camp is populated ”.
According to UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, the fire injured more than 500 people, destroyed 10,000 temporary shelters and left 45,000 refugees homeless.
Humanitarian groups said on Tuesday the most complicated problem was the nearly completed barbed wire fence surrounding the crowded and crowded Rohingya camps at Cox’s Bazar.
“The rescue efforts proved to be challenging due to the presence of the perimeter fence. In some cases, refugees cut fences themselves to escape the fire, ”said the Interagency Coordination Group, a coordinating group of many international NGOs and humanitarian aid agencies, including even those affiliated with the United Nations, said in a statement Tuesday.
The majority of the 1 million Rohingya fleeing neighboring Myanmar live in 34 refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar, a district bordering Myanmar’s Rakhine state. The refugees included more than 740,000 who escaped a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine in 2017.
In January, Bangladeshi officials said that the government’s installation of barbed wire around the Rohingya would keep the Rohingya safe and secure and would also prevent their “criminal activities”.
In a joint statement Wednesday, a series of local and international NGOs said the Bangladeshi government needed to reconsider the barrier in the camps.
“The fences across the pathways to camp should be reviewed, and the small gates should be opened and staffed 24 hours a day to ensure safe travel in emergencies and access to services. emergency response, ”said the group’s statement.
Lost after the fire
On Wednesday, Bangladeshi authorities reiterated that the number of people dying from the fire was 11, not 15 as UNHCR reported a day earlier.
Louise Donovan, spokesperson for UNHCR’s Dhaka office, told BenarNews on Wednesday: “We are continuing to confirm the figures with Bangladeshi authorities and know that only 11 deaths have been made official. announced and identified to date.
However, BRAC, the largest NGO in Bangladesh, says at least 13 people were killed in Monday’s fire, including six children.
Donovan said that as of Wednesday, 339 people had not been found since the fire, but the Refugee and Repatriation Relief Commissioner Shah Rezwan Hayat denied this.
“There’s no shortage of people. The affected Rohingya took refuge in nearby camps, learning centers and mosques. They’ve started coming back, ”Hayat told BenarNews.
A Rohingya refugee rested under a temporary shelter in the area of his burnt home at Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 23, 2021. [Sunil Barua/BenarNews]
The cause of the fire is still unknown
Bangladeshi officials on Wednesday said they were still investigating the cause of the fire.
Monday’s fire was the largest of at least 25 major fires at Cox’s Bazar camps since 2017, officials said.
In another major fire at a camp on January 14, more than 550 shelters were destroyed, leaving some 3,000 Rohingya homeless, but no deaths occurred.
Otto Van Manen, country director of Aid for Children, said the risk of fire was high in the sprawling camps this week.
While visiting the site of the fire, Bangladesh Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal reiterated that the Rohingya are welcome to move to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, where the government has displaced thousands of refugees.
“We will welcome the Rohingya to Bhashan Char if any of the affected Rohingya want to do so,” the minister told reporters on Wednesday.
“Very good arrangements have been made at Bhashan Char,” he said, referring to the island.
The government says it has spent about US $ 280 million on housing, a major embankment and other infrastructure on Bhashan Char to ease the pressure on crowded camps on the Cox’s Bazar mainland.
The island’s facilities are better than the refugee camps, authorities said.
Reported by BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with RFA.