Fire in Rohingya camps
This Monday's fire in the Balukhali refugee camp in Ukhiya was the third one that had broken out in the last four days. This has caused large scale devastation of the refugee homes, numbering in thousands, and has taken at least seven lives, as per latest reports, including those of two children and two women. The offices of IOM PHC Balukhali, Turkish Hospital and MSF were also completely burnt. There were two incidences of fire in the same camp and on the same day, one in the late afternoon and the other at 11:00 pm. One has to wonder, was the fire put out properly when it had broken out the first time around, or was there some sort of negligence involved that led to two such devastating fires in the same place, on the same day?
These camps (being so densely packed and housing more than a million refugees) are extremely susceptible to fires, given the materials with which the shanties are constructed, plus the temporary electricity lines and makeshift kitchens, and the lack of awareness about fire precaution measures. And this is not the first incidence of fire in the refugee camps. In January of this year, a fire broke out in the Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp, destroying more than 550 shelters housing about 3,500 people as well as 150 shops. Thankfully, there were no casualties back then.
The fires are a double blow to the refugees. Having been able to retrieve very little when they fled their homes in Myanmar, whatever they had managed to scrounge up in the last four years have been turned into ashes. We hope that the affected refugees will be adequately compensated. We also hope that the authorities will undertake a study to determine the causes behind repeated outbreaks of fire in the camps and adopt measures to reduce the possibility of future occurrences of such fires. It may be a good idea also to set up fire stations in close proximity of the camps for quick responses in case similar incidents occur again in the future. In the meantime, adequate firefighting equipment should be provided and volunteers from amongst the refugees should be trained to combat outbreaks of fire at the very initial stage, at least till the fire services arrive. That would help mitigate the damage and save lives.
These frequent incidents of fire outbreaks have brought to the fore how precarious the lives of these refugees are and how urgent is the need for a sustainable solution to this crisis.