Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar, walk after they received permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue on to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. File/Reuters
The woes never seem to end for the distressed and beleaguered Rohingya refugees. Thousands of these refugees lost their dwellings to a devastating fire that killed at least 15 people, including children, officials said.
The fire on Monday raced through Balukhali camp at Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar district, home to Rohingya refugees from neighbouring Myanmar.
More than a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are living in teeming camps in Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled after Myanmar’s military conducted a deadly crackdown in 2017.
The UN has said the crackdown had a genocidal intent, a charge Myanmar rejects.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said more than 10,000 families lost their homes in the fire. The blaze also destroyed dozens of learning centres for children, clinics, markets and aid distribution centres.
In addition to razing the homes of 10,000 families, the fire destroyed the area’s infrastructure, hospital, food centres, markets, schools and health clinics, according to Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM’s deputy chief of mission in Bangladesh.
“The concerns over the capacity of the refugees to escape from the fire is a topic that needs to be linked with the congestion on the camps, and the shape of the camps, and the capacity of people to move in the camps,” Pereira said.
Aid workers searched to reunite Rohingya families separated in the fire. Also, dozens of Rohingya refugees had been adrift for almost two weeks on the Andaman Sea, according to a recent report.
India’s coast guard had been assisting 81 survivors, who were found crammed inside a crippled fishing boat alongside eight people who had died. The boat had sailed on Feb.11 from Cox’s Bazar carrying 56 women and eight girls as well as 21 men and five boys, officials said.
Many of the survivors, according to Indian officials, were sick and suffering from extreme dehydration, having run out of food and water after the boat’s engine failed four days after leaving Cox’s Bazar.
“The engine of the boat broke down earlier this week and we received an SOS from some Rohingya,” said an Indian coast guard official overseeing the search and rescue effort from New Delhi.
Bangladesh, which has been hosting the over million refugees in crowded refugee camps, is eager to begin sending them back to Myanmar.
Several attempts at repatriation under a joint agreement failed because the Rohingya refused to go, fearing more violence in a country that reportedly denies them basic rights including citizenship.
The move has fallen into more uncertainty after the country’s military staged a coup in February after a short span of quasi-democracy since 2011.
Recently, more than 1,400 Rohingya Muslim refugees were relocated to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, despite opposition from human rights groups concerned about the site’s vulnerability to storms and flooding.
Bangladesh says the relocation is voluntary, but some of the first group of refugees who were relocated spoke of being coerced. The government also says overcrowding in refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar district fuels crime.
There is another issue. The real and hidden crisis, during and in the aftermath of any conflict, displacement or natural disaster, is that women and girls are disproportionately exposed to sexual violence, increased loss of livelihood and even their lives. After fleeing violence and discrimination in Myanmar these women and girls are now struggling to cope with the loss and trauma they have experienced, to stay safe in the camps and for basic survival, according to a report in the Independent.
Traffickers often reportedly lure Rohingya refugees with promises of work in southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia.