Rohingya plight: From Myanmar’s frying pan into fire in Bangladeshi camps


Nur Ankiz had just finished feeding her six-month-old baby and placed it on a small old mat with patches inside her camp made of tarpaulin sheets placed on four standing sticks, with three of her other children playing nearby with visible ash marks on their clothes, indicating the recent fire incident in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh.

"Ramadan is approaching... we don't know how we will keep fasting and how things will change for us," Ankiz, 35, told Anadolu while sitting in her new home - a tarpaulin tent - which the family of six set up close to their previous home in camp No 11, which was gutted in the March 5 fire incident in the southern coastal district of Cox's Bazar.

Thousands of Rohingya refugees in the congested camps are still struggling to survive two weeks after the devastating fire destroyed over 2,000 tents and made about 16,000 persecuted people homeless.

"Fire destroyed everything I owned, but we escaped death by fleeing to a nearby camp. We're currently living in a tarpaulin tent with no protection,” Ankiz said.

Two of her four children were born in Bangladesh, and this six-member family is now helplessly awaiting assistance from international donors and host-country authorities ahead of the Islamic month of Ramadan.

The devastating fire, which Bangladeshi authorities have investigated as sabotage, reduced most of this camp to ashes.

Bangladesh currently houses over 1.2 million Rohingya, the majority of whom fled a brutal military crackdown in their home country of Myanmar's Rakhine State in August 2017.

Many Rohingya were seen passing by Ankiz camp, busy rebuilding their gutted tents, with dozens of Rohingya children carrying dirt and ashes on their bodies as they played across the hilly burning site.

"We migrated to Bangladesh after losing everything in Myanmar in the hope that our lives would be safer here and that we would be able to return to our motherland. However, the frequent fires at the camps remind us of Myanmar's plight under the ‘brutal’ military regime,” Mohammad Alam, 50, another Rohingya in the same camp, told Anadolu.

Standing in front of his tent, Alam was talking to the leading Turkish news agency, saying he had yet to rebuild his tent due to a lack of necessary materials and that he was living with his family members in a very vulnerable condition.

"Almost all of my three children are suffering from various diseases, including skin-related allergic problems, and the crisis has worsened significantly since the fire," Alam added

- Marks of disasters

While walking through different hilly roads across the camp, it was found that black ashes of burned trees were still visible on hilly sites, with many burning trees still standing alongside green trees at neighborhood safe camps, showing the long-term ecological adverse effects of the fire.

"Before the fire, this entire camp was green by trees, and the environment was very fantastic," Alam said, adding that even the greenest graveyard site of this camp across the slope of the hill was completely burned to ashes, leaving only black dust.

A well-equipped hospital, many learning centers, and mosques were all destroyed by the fire, and Rohingya people were seen offering Muslim prayers under the open sky on the muddy floor of camp-based mosques.

The sufferings of women and elderly members of the Rohingya community appeared to be enormous, as sanitation facilities were also heavily destroyed, putting the women in an awkward position, with many responding to natural calls either early in the morning or late at night.

"Our earnest request to international aid organizations and Bangladeshi authorities… please rebuild our tents and latrines immediately and ensure sufficient water supply for us during this period of crisis," young Rohingya mother Fatima Begum noted.

- Outcome of frustration

Referring to the investigation committee's report on the massive fire, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammed Mizanur Rahman told Anadolu that it was sabotage, which is very concerning.

"Due to long uncertainty about peaceful and dignified repatriation of Rohingya to their home country, frustration is growing among Myanmar's forcibly displaced nationals, and they are now divided into different rival factions and easily prompted to criminal activities," Rahman observed.

He believes that peaceful and dignified repatriation is the only sustainable solution to the crisis, as the Rohingya people have no hope of a future for themselves or future generations.

"We are allowing education for Rohingya children with Myanmar curriculum and language in all camps so that these people do not lose hope and can cope with their own country after returning," the host country's top refugee official added.

He also underlined that every day the national anthem of Myanmar is sung at all learning centers in front of the Rohingya children so that the Rohingya know who they are and what is their ultimate destination.

Speaking to Anadolu, many Rohingya fire victims said the situation in the overcrowded camps is becoming more complicated, and living here has grown increasingly difficult, and that they want to return to their motherland, but only after receiving citizenship rights and safety guarantees in the presence of UN representatives.

Source: Anadolu Agency