DHAKA: A huge fire that has left thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps without shelter was a “planned act of sabotage” by groups attempting to exert influence, a panel investigating the blaze said on Monday.
The fire broke out on March 5 in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal district and the world’s largest refugee settlement hosting around 1.2 million Rohingya Muslims who fled violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar.
An estimated 2,000 huts and dozens of facilities, including hospitals and learning centers, were destroyed after flames swept through the camps, affecting more than 12,000 people.
“The fire incident was a planned act of sabotage and vengeance which was done to establish influence in the camp over the rival groups,” Abu Sufian, a senior district government official and head of the seven-member probe committee, told Arab News.
The panel concluded its investigation after three days and interviewed eyewitnesses from the camps, Sufian said, as they made several recommendations to improve fire safety, as well as surveillance and intelligence monitoring in the camps.
“We recommend further investigation over the incident to dig out the names responsible for this fire. It requires an in-depth investigation.”
Fire incidents are common in the crowded camps as the makeshift structures are prone to such hazards. In 2021, a blaze destroyed thousands of homes and killed at least 15 refugees.
But the recent incident is only the latest example of surging crime in the camps.
“As a Rohingya refugee, I feel insecure in the camp to utter the names of the … gangs that are active in the camps. One of these gangs is responsible for the fire incident,” a Rohingya refugee residing in the Kutupalong camp told Arab News.
The 25-year-old requested anonymity out of fear for his safety.
“There should be more and more deep investigation. And the authorities must hold them accountable. It’s obvious that the perpetrators set the fire with an intention to establish dominance over the other groups in the camps,” he said.
Asif Munir, a migration and refugee expert based in Dhaka, said similar incidents had occurred in the camps in the last two years, with “different groups and factions” behind them, most of whom are armed and involved with drug trafficking.
“It doesn’t seem that they have any revolutionary ideas or in terms of looking after the Rohingya population and their future and their welfare. They’re a selfish group, and just kind of waiting for or hoping to get some extra money which can support themselves only,” Munir told Arab News.
“These are some things that actually Bangladesh intelligence, authorities, as well as the law enforcing agencies need to have a better mechanism of containing,” he said.
“This cannot carry on and this has to be contained, and if needed, there needs to be specialist training for dealing with armed groups, maybe with an international training as well.”