Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, March 23, 2021 — The IRC is concerned for around 45,000 Rohingya refugees who have lost their homes in Cox’s Bazar in the wake of yesterday’s devastating fire. Among those worst affected are women and girls, who are exposed to the additional threat of gender-based violence and are in urgent need of protection.
The blaze has destroyed critical infrastructure, including 3,000 shelters as well as health clinics, mosques, community centres and an IRC safe space for women. Early reports indicate that newly installed barbed wire fencing seriously restricted the ability of refugees to flee the fire, including especially vulnerable women and girls.
Alarmingly, many families and children have been separated, and around 400 people have been reported missing. The IRC has been providing support to identify missing children and reunite them with their families, as well as providing psychological first aid to ensure children feel safe and protected.
Manish Agrawal, IRC Director in Bangladesh, said: “The fire in Cox’s Bazar is unlike anything IRC teams have seen before in camps. The scale and intensity of the blaze destroyed thousands of homes and left tens of thousands of people displaced under terrible circumstances. It is not yet known how many people have been injured or lost their lives but what we can say for certain is that the fire will have a deep impact on the Rohingya community.
“Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh have already witnessed immeasurable trauma, none more so than women and girls who have had their experiences compounded by the ever-present risk of gender-based violence, exploitation and abuse.
“Today, an IRC-led assessment provides details of the situation facing refugees. There is not enough temporary shelter and many women and girls were forced to sleep by the side of the road at night, exposing them to the risk of harassment, assault or violence. Elderly and pregnant women have also reported increased difficulties in accessing critical health services and are in urgent need of protection.
“Existing IRC analysis shows the risks facing women and girls: last year At least one in four women screened at IRC health facilities and women’s centres in Cox’s Bazar reported surviving gender-based violence. We know that the risks posed to women and girls are compounded in times of crisis, and with the loss of shelter. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that their safety and wellbeing is prioritised in the wake of this devastating fire and that efforts to provide them with adequate shelter, food and emergency supplies are at the heart of the response.”
The IRC has been operating in Bangladesh since 2018, providing an emergency response to the escalating situation in Cox’s Bazar. Since then, programming has expanded to women’s protection and empowerment, child protection and healthcare, and has provided support to over 100,000 Rohingya refugees.
****For photographs of Cox’s Bazar in the aftermath of the blaze see here.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.