The overcrowded, densely-populated Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are proving to be serious fire hazards as fire incidents have now become a common occurrence there.
The latest of such incidents occurred in the early hours of Monday when four Unicef schools for Rohingya children were destroyed in a fire which the UN Children's Agency claimed originated from an arson attack.
Besides, less than a week ago, on January 14, more than 500 makeshift dwellings were gutted in a fire at the Nayapara Rohingya refugee camp in the coastal district’s Teknaf. However, no casualties were reported in that incident.
Alarmingly, in most of the cases, officials have failed to ascertain the actual causes behind the fires, raising more questions and more speculations among the general people.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Md Abdullah, Cox’s Bazar Fire Service and Civil Defence deputy assistant director (DAD) said: “We could not, in detail, learn the causes of the fires [the aforementioned ones]. However, witnesses have told us that the fires started from a gas cylinder and a mosquito coil.
“But no one was injured in the incidents.”
Local public representatives and politicians now smell a conspiracy behind the frequent fire accidents. They have claimed that some of the NGOs working at the camps are the ones behind the fires, which they believe are man-made disasters, not mere accidents.
Palangkhali Union Parishad (UP) Chairman Gafor Uddin Chowdhury, claimed: "NGO officials are deliberately setting the camps on fire by promising to build new permanent homes for the Rohingyas.”
“As a result of this, on the one hand, the Rohingyas are getting permanent homes and on the other hand, the NGOs are getting more allocations,” the UP chairman added, without naming the NGOs that he believes are behind the fires.
Echoing him, Ali Ahmed, former president of Cox's Bazar Chhatra League and a permanent resident of Palangkhali union, said: "The fires at the Rohingya camps are surrounded by mysteries. Every fire incident occurs late at night and no casualties are reported from them. People believe that some NGOs are involved in these activities as they get fresh budget allocations to build new homes.”
“This whole matter should be thoroughly investigated,” added the local student leader.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Rafiq, a Rohingya leader at the Nayapara refugee camp in Hnila union of Teknaf Upazila, said: "The January 14 fire originated from a woman’s makeshift hut in the camp. However, no one could ascertain the real cause of the fire. This whole thing seems mysterious.
“More than 500 Rohingya shanties were gutted in the fire on that day. They are being repaired but many of us are still living under the open sky.”
Despite repeated attempts, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) Shah Rezwan Hayat could not be reached over the phone for comment on the issue.