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FAIRFIELD, Conn. March 25, 2021—Save the Children is working around the clock to locate at least 23 Rohingya children still reported missing after a huge fire swept through the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh on Monday.
The blaze tore through the cramped Cox’s Bazar camp burning thousands of shelters made of highly flammable bamboo and tarpaulin. The flames killed an estimated 11 people, including children, and left 50,000 people homeless. Hundreds of people are still reported missing.
Save the Children’s family tracing and reunification team is working closely with camp leaders and other organizations to locate missing children, and has already reunited 289 children with their families after they were separated in the chaos. Save the Children is concerned for at least 23 Rohingya children who are still reported missing by their families.
In a joint statement, Save the Children and other organizations said ‘the fencing hampered the ability of refugees to escape and caused significant delays to fire services’:
“Fences across roads into camps should be reconsidered, and pocket gates should be opened and staffed for 24-hour access, to ensure safe passage during emergencies and access for emergency response services.”
Tayeba Begum, a Rohingya volunteer for Save the Children, fled the blaze with her son before fire tore through her home. She said:
“When the fire broke out behind my house, I grabbed my child and ran for at least a kilometer. I had to leave everything behind and run to save our lives. All my belongings were burnt to ashes. I took shelter later at my brother’s house who lives nearby.
“I saw refugees crying and running for their lives, but they couldn’t go far due to the barbed wire fence. The army came after a while and made ways to help people escape. They cut out the fence in front of our house, and then the fire service entered and helped putting out the fire. Otherwise, the house we took shelter in would also have burnt down.”
Jaforullah, another Rohingya volunteer for Save the Children, also lost his home in the fire. He is currently staying in one of Save the Children’s emergency shelters. He said:
“All of a sudden I noticed the fire and came outside. The whole situation was chaotic … The fire was ripping through my house … I couldn’t see my children and wife anywhere. Save the Children helped me to find my wife and children again. Now we are homeless and badly in need of a house for our children. My children are not well, and their mental health situation is not good.”
Save the Children is providing psychosocial first aid to distressed children and families who have been left traumatized by the blaze. It has established 12 temporary safe spaces for children staffed 24 hours a day with trained child protection staff and volunteers, and is providing emergency shelter kits for displaced refugees.
The organization is concerned for the welfare of pregnant mothers, newborn babies, and children under five who are suffering from a lack of food, water, and access to healthcare, as at least six health facilities were destroyed in the fire, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Aid organizations are working quickly to distribute water bottles and mobile water tanks to refugees. Save the Children and other health partners are deploying mobile medical staff and ambulances for referrals.
Save the Children’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Onno van Manen, said:
“The Rohingya refugees have already endured more than any human—and certainly any child—should have to deal with in a lifetime. Families have had to flee their homes because of extreme violence and now live in a crowded refugee camp, only to watch what little they had left burn to the ground. On top of this devastation, refugees who have already lost everything are also grieving the loss of their children.
“The devastation caused by the fire stands as another ghastly reminder that children stuck in the camps in Cox’s Bazar face a bleak future. Put simply, despite the relentless efforts of humanitarian communities, a refugee camp is no place for a child to grow up.
“We’re doing all we can to help refugees displaced by the fire and provide the help children need to recover from the horrors they have witnessed. We’re also working around the clock to protect children from further risks to their safety, such as child trafficking, which can increase after a crisis like this. But the humanitarian response for the Rohingya crisis is still woefully underfunded, and we desperately need the international community to step up and provide resources for essential lifesaving services.”