Junaid was separated from his family when fleeing raging fire in Rohingya refugee camps

Enormous relief effort underway as UNICEF and partners respond to catastrophic fire in one of the world’s largest refugee settlements

Karen Reidy
Junaid
UNICEF/UN0431934/Saeed
12 April 2021

Junaid and his siblings quickly became separated in the panic and chaos that followed the massive fire in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh in the afternoon of 22 March. Flames quickly engulfed shelters, spreading across four refugee camps and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Those who had time grabbed their most important possessions. Others were lucky to escape with their lives.

10-year-old Rezwan
UNICEF/UN0431936/Saeed
10-year-old Rezwan shocked to see the debris the morning after a massive fire spread through the Rohingya refugee camps, devastating thousands of Rohingya families and children. The fire still burns behind him.

Junaid reunited with his family

The day after the tragedy, the ground remained extremely hot, while the air was heavily polluted and difficult to breathe. Amidst the devastation and ashes, stories that bring hope to the Rohingya community began to emerge.

When twelve-year-old Junaid saw UNICEF’s staff on the ground, he ran to meet them, overcome to see familiar faces and help arriving from outside the camp.

“We lost everything in the fire. My father and I stayed with our uncle the night of the fire but we didn’t know what happened to my two siblings, we were so worried. The next day we were reunited, we were overjoyed,” said Junaid.

As the immediate disaster is stabilized, UNICEF and partners are planning a complex rebuilding effort which will need outside support.  

Children like Junaid have seen their learning centres turned to ashes and they wondering  what is going to happen next? How long will it take to rebuild their homes, their lives and their communities?

“I loved coming to this learning centre where I would play with my friends. But everything is gone,” Junaid shared.

The burned remains of school books
UNICEF/UN0431935/Saeed
The burned remains of school books amongst the debris after a massive fire devastated the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Sheltering lost children

During the first 24 hours, UNICEF’s immediate concern was to ensure the safety and protection of children who were separated or missing from their families. UNICEF and partners sheltered over 70 lost children overnight. By midday the day after the fire, nearly half of these were successfully reunited with their families.

UNICEF child protection partners and community volunteers are continuing search efforts to re-unite missing children with their families.

More than 45,000 Rohingya refugees were rendered homeless, more than half of whom are children, when nearly 10,000 shelters were destroyed. At least 11 people are feared to have perished, including children. Hundreds more were injured and two days after the fire over 300 people remained missing.

After they fled persecution in Myanmar, Rohingya refugees children and their families have struggled to build their lives in very difficult circumstances. Now they have lost everything for a second time.

“Our hearts go out to all the Rohingya children and families affected by this disaster. We want to give our full commitment, UNICEF is ready to help. We will have a difficult journey ahead but we are working hard to respond and rebuild as quickly as possible,” said Ezatullah Majeed, UNICEF Chief of Field Office, Cox’s Bazar.

Rohingya children walk through the wreckage of the fire in Cox's Bazar.
UNICEF/UN0431898/Mohsin
Rohingya children walk through the wreckage of the fire in Cox's Bazar. Thousands of homes have been destroyed upending the lives of Rohingya families and children living in the refugee camps.