Huge rescue and relief effort as fire razes Bangladesh camps

Kuala Lumpur/Cox’s Bazar/Geneva, 23 March 2021 – The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society has launched one of its biggest ever rescue and relief efforts in the camp settlement in Cox’s Bazar after a deadly fire razed several thousand camp houses.

More than 1,000 Red Crescent staff and volunteers worked through the night with fire fighters, camp residents and other agencies to rescue people and douse the fire that has left thousands of people homeless. An estimated 123,000 people live in the camps affected by the huge blaze.

M. A. Halim, Head of Operation in Cox’s Bazar for the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society said:

“It is heart breaking to see how destructive a fire can be in such a short time. As soon as this terrible blaze started, our teams rushed to the area to help fight the fire, rescue people in danger, evacuate thousands to safety and provide immediate relief.” 

“We are providing relief through food and water, and erecting emergency shelters for people who have lost their homes. These devastating fires will require even greater efforts by all agencies in the coming weeks, particularly as the cyclone season approaches.” 

Close to 900,000 people displaced from Rakhine State, Myanmar, live in the crowded camp settlement, supported by the Government of Bangladesh and humanitarian agencies including Bangladesh Red Crescent and the IFRC.

Sanjeev Kumar Kafley, Head of Delegation in Bangladesh for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said:

“This is a terrible blow to some of the most resilient people on earth. Many people fled to Bangladesh after having their homes burnt to the ground. After setting up a new life, thousands now face more hardship and uncertainty. 

“The volunteers and fire-fighters who have put out these fires and evacuated people to safety are real heroes as they have saved countless lives. These fires are a brutal blow for camp residents, compounding frightful hardship caused by COVID-19.” 

Among the first responders were some 600 camp residents trained under the Cyclone Preparedness Programme, a joint effort of the Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh Red Crescent to prepare and respond to cyclones as well as other emergencies. The 600 are part of a total of 3,400 trained volunteers living in all 34 of the Cox’s Bazaar camps.

As part of the ongoing Population Movement Operation which started in 2017 and Myanmar Refugee Relief Operation, which started in 1992, the Bangladesh Red Crescent with the assistance of IFRC, other Red Cross and Red Crescent partners and UNHCR, is providing both camp residents and host communities living on the periphery of the camps with healthcare, access to safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene, safer shelter, livelihoods and along with protection support for women and those most at risk. In total, from the start of operations in 2017, the Bangladesh Red Crescent has supported about 1 million people.