A fire has ravaged the largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh leaving over 12,000 people homeless and destroying major infrastructure, including over 2,000 homes and an IRC health facility that delivered essential services to thousands of people. 

This fire comes in the wake of a major cut in food rations, as a significant decrease in funding for the Rohingya refugee response leaves humanitarian actors with no choice but to reduce services. The IRC is warning that the combination of the shrink in food rations and the impact of the fire will cause major protection risks for women and children, who are at heightened risk of Gender-Based Violence and exploitation in times of crisis and are often the last to eat during food shortages.

At least two health centres were destroyed in the blaze, along with five learning centres and one child friendly area, all of which are critical to the protection of women and children. The IRC has deployed an emergency mobile medical team to deliver first aid and health support to families affected by the fire, and a protection team to ensure that women and children are supported with mental health support and protection services.

Adnan Junaid, IRC Asia Regional Director, said,

“The consequences of the fire will be catastrophic for the Rohingya families living in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, thousands of whom will now be forced to sleep under open skies, with no access to food, water or formal health support.

“This is the latest in a series of fires that have destroyed swathes of Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in recent months, and one of the worst that we have seen since the camp was established in 2017. Immediate action must be taken to mitigate the risk of this happening ever again. Necessary steps include rebuilding the camps in a safer way, with firebreaks and more space between shelters, as well as the provision of firefighting equipment and safety points throughout the camps. A fire evacuation plan must be established, volunteers trained and a monitoring system put in place.

“Meanwhile, this fire should serve to bring the world’s attention back to the Rohingya Crisis. Support has been waning for the newly designated protracted crisis, and dwindling funding has led to food rations being cut by almost 20% in the last week. The overall humanitarian situation in Cox’s Bazar is poised to worsen and the one million people who are living in the camps are experiencing an increase in malnutrition, violence and exploitation. 

“The IRC is calling on world leaders to retrain their attention on Bangladesh, and remember those people who have been living in camps in Cox’s Bazar without adequate shelter or support, and in fear that their world could burn around them.”

The IRC began responding to the Rohingya crisis in August 2017 and launched its response officially in March 2018. With over 400 staff in Bangladesh and operating across 27 camps across the district, our teams provide essential healthcare to the host community as well as Rohingya population in Cox’s Bazar, as well as reproductive and maternal healthcare, child protection, education, prevention and response to Gender-Based Violence, and Emergency Disaster Risk Reduction (EDRR).