25 Mar 2021

New Zealand aid worker says deadly fire at Rohingya refugee camp is 'devastating'

6:55 am on 25 March 2021

A New Zealand aid worker who recently returned from a Rohingya refugee settlement in Bangladesh is devastated to hear about a deadly fire there.

A view from the Balukhali Rohingya camp.

A view from the Balukhali Rohingya camp. Photo: AFP / 2021 Anadolu Agency

The blaze killed at least 15 people, displaced about 45,000 people, and left at least 400 missing, according to UN refugee agency UNHCR.

Tearfund international programmes director Carl Adams worked with the refugees for two years, helping to set up medical clinics and over 4000 shelters in the camp, before returning to New Zealand late last year.

"It's really unfortunate that a large number of those look as though they're right in the line of the fire," he said.

"It's really awful when you've been to those places and met people who are now, I imagine, without homes. Seeing the sheer devastation in the same place that you've walked only a few months earlier is really horrific."

Adams said the tragedy added even more misery for Rohingya refugees who have faced violence, had to flee their homes, lost loved ones, and were battling with Covid-19.

"The fact that people have been living a really hard existence as a refugee compounded by Covid and now compounded by a fire is just really devastating."

Just before he left Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, he was upscaling and equipping health facilities to help contain Covid-19.

"The fire has definitely stripped out a large amount of the healthcare services, which were already really stretched in the camp, with cases of Covid continuing to climb as well as the basic health needs that such a large refugee population pose, so it is a real concern."

A huge fire swept through Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, destroying thousands of homes.

A huge fire swept through Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, destroying thousands of homes. Photo: AFP / 2021 Anadolu Agency

Adams said he was in contact with his former colleagues, first responders, as soon as he heard the news.

"They were going out at first light to conduct assessments. As soon as the fires had gone out, they were on the ground going and seeing what the needs are and how extensive the impact of these fires have been and what support people need."

Carl Adams at Bangladesh's Cox's Bazaar refugee camp

Carl Adams at Cox's Bazar refugee camp. Photo: Supplied

He said Tearfund was among the New Zealand aid agencies offering support.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said New Zealand had not yet been asked to provide support in response to the large fire but would closely monitor the situation.

The ministry said it had received updates on the situation from some of its NGO partners.

Since 2017, the government has provided $4.1 million through the New Zealand Disaster Response Partnership to fund New Zealand NGOs and their local partners in Bangladesh to provide a range of assistance for refugees in Cox's Bazar.

New Zealand has also contributed $14.25m to UNHCR and the UN Population Fund in Bangladesh. Both agencies are providing assistance to the refugee populations in Cox's Bazar.

Rohingya refugees referred to New Zealand by UNHCR are accepted, and the ministry said this would continue.

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