Bangladesh Probes Rohingya Camp Fire

By Muktadir Rashid   7 March 2023

DHAKA–Bangladesh has launched an inquiry into the massive fire of Sunday that razed approximately 2,000 shelters at Balukhali camp near Cox’s Bazar, leaving an estimated 12,000 Rohingya refugees without shelter.

The fire followed growing tension between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) militant groups.

Rohingya leaders and Bangladesh officials told The Irrawaddy that the fire was probably linked to the power struggle in the camps between the two major groups.

A senior Bangladeshi official: “The camp was originally under ARSA control but RSO had been gradually taking over. We suspect ARSA as the possible perpetrator as it was losing control over the camp.”

Rohingya leader Htway Lwin said the militant groups were suspected as they moved their families out of the camp before the incident.

Htway Lwin, who left the camp amid recent bloodshed, said he heard it was a planned attack.

“Justice must be served,” he added.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters in Dhaka on Monday that an investigation had been launched into the fire and prosecutions might follow.

Cox’s Bazar district police chief Md Mahfuzur Rahman said: “We are examining social media over the fire. We have spoken to witnesses and now trying to trace possible suspects.”

Cox’s Bazar district has formed a seven-member committee, headed by magistrate Abu Sufian, which included representatives from the police and intelligence agencies. The committee has been given three days to report.

Rohingya campfires are common but they rarely spark criminal investigations.

In March 2021 a massive fire killed at least 10 Rohingya refugees.

A Bangladesh Army intelligence report stated that over 27 percent of the 222 fires in Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar between January 2021 and December 2022 were acts of sabotage.

Approximately 45 percent of fires while the others were unexplained.

Rights group Ain O Salish Kendra executive director Mohammad Nur Khan called for an impartial investigation to trace the perpetrators and motives behind the arson attacks.

The Cox’s Bazar authorities have reported no causalities or missing people from the incident.

Rescuers said temporary accommodation had been arranged for those displaced and United Nations agencies were providing meals.

Rohingya leader Mohammed Sahad said on Monday that he had arranged shelter for his relatives affected by the fire while other families were struggling.

The UN refugee charity, the UNHCR, in Dhaka reported that approximately 12,000 of the camp’s 32,200 inhabitants were displaced while more than 2,000 shelters were destroyed or damaged. More than 90 health and educational centers were also damaged.

The UNHCR said it had activated a tracking system to provide support and to help reunite families.

The UN children’s fund, Unicef, said that at least 6,000 children were affected.

“Unicef and our partners have worked through the night to protect and support traumatized children and their families,” the agency’s representative in Bangladesh Sheldon Yett said in a statement.

“The fire destroyed 2,000 shelters and a large number of facilities that provide critical services to refugee children and their families. Among these are over 20 learning centers, at least one nutrition center and several sanitation facilities,” the statement read.