Jamila was rescued by her grandmother from terrifying fire in the Rohingya refugee camps
UNICEF sets up temporary learning centres after fire rips through shelters and schools
Like thousands of Rohingya refugee children living in camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, five-year-old Jamila was seized with fear as a deadly fire raged across the shelters on 9 January 2022.
The fire destroyed or partially damaged over 300 shelters in the camp, directly affecting more than 1,700 Rohingya refugees. Crucial services, including about 200 water and sanitation facilities and a food distribution point were destroyed.
Two UNICEF-supported learning centres along with the learning materials inside also burnt down. With almost two hundred children having lost their school, children like Jamila could resume learning in the temporary learning centre that UNICEF erected only days after the fire.
The temporary learning centre is also a safe space where Jamila found help to deal with the terrifying experience. Speaking with a UNICEF-supported psychosocial first aid worker, Jamila began to talk about the terrifying night when she escaped the fire that ripped through her shelter. As LPG gas canisters, which are used for cooking in the shelters, burst from the heat, little Jamila thought bombs were exploding.
“There were bombs everywhere. I was very scared. I was crying. My grandmother brought me out of the camp and then I stopped crying. But my feet got hurt when we were running so I started crying again," Jamila said. “When the fire started, I got a fever because it was so hot.”
Mobilizing to protect children
As displaced refugee families, many of whom lost all their belongings, sought temporary shelter in the adjacent camp and in relatives’ houses, UNICEF Bangladesh mobilized immediately to provide for the urgent needs of affected children and ensure their protection.
As part of the multi-agency team deployed within 24 hours of the fire, UNICEF joined partner organizations in the efforts to provide food, water, clothing and shelter to the refugees.
UNICEF’s emergency responders ensured that children who were injured in the fire received medical assistance. Seven child protection help desks and five child-friendly spaces were set up, and community-based child protection committees mobilized to ensure the safety at children and women, especially at night.
Almost 50 children who were separated in the chaos of the fire were reunited with their families through the efforts of UNICEF and partners. Over a thousand children from the affected and neighbouring camps have received psychosocial support.
Rebuilding from the ashes
While no lives were lost, the 9 January fire left a visible impact on the lives of the refugees living in Camp 16.
The destruction of crucial WASH facilities such as latrines, bathing cubicles, handwashing facilities, water tanks and tube wells, left many families without access to these key services.
UNICEF led the efforts to provide families with soap, jerry cans and tubs for emergency water use, and running water was ensured within 48 hours. Efforts are now underway for emergency repairs and for rebuilding the sanitation facilities.
UNICEF and partners are already working to reconstruct the learning centres so that children can re-start their regular learning.
“It is heart-breaking to see how the children are suffering from this fire, which has disrupted their already vulnerable lives as refugees. The UNICEF team and I are working tirelessly on the ground to provide them an opportunity to enjoy a childhood with hope for the future,” said Ezatullah Majeed, UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Cox’s Bazar.