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UNHCR rushing support and aid to Rohingya refugees affected by last week’s massive fire

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Refugee volunteers deliver aid to families affected by the fire in the Kutupalong-Balukhali camps, Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Amos Halder

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

30 March 2021

An estimated 48,000 Rohingya refugees have lost their shelters and belongings in the blaze which devastated parts of the Kutupalong-Balukhali refugee camps in Cox's Bazar last Monday (22 March). Sheltering more than 600,000 refugees, this is the largest refugee camp in the world.

The fire has destroyed more than 9,500 shelters. Refugees who lost their shelters are being temporarily accommodated within the camp. The fire has also reduced to ashes more than 1,600 important infrastructure facilities vital for daily operations, including hospitals, learning centres, aid distribution points and a registration centre.

In addition to thousands of relief items, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has also provided medical supplies to partners and to support IOM in the affected areas. With our partners, we have established and equipped mobile medical teams to provide first aid to affected refugees. Psychosocial support is equally important following this devastating fire. So far, UNHCR partners have provided psychosocial support to more than 4,000 affected refugees.

Our staff are being deployed at WFP food distribution points for the next three weeks to facilitate the issuance of replacement registration documents for refugees who lost theirs in the fire. We have extended support to IOM for coordinating the response on the ground to ensure equitable access to protection, services, information and assistance for vulnerable families, older refugees and people with disabilities. Mitigation of gender-based violence risks through awareness-raising and monitoring is another priority.

Our teams on the ground are monitoring the safety and security of refugees. We are also working to address the critical needs of separated children. Since the fire, together with our partners, we've identified more than 600 separated girls and boys who have been reunited with their families. Our protection partners also established two child protection helplines and four reunification help desks.

Hundreds of refugee volunteers are also supporting affected families Throughout the Rohingya refugee crisis, these volunteers have been critical to the humanitarian response in Cox's Bazar camps. Last week, they were among the first responders in the collective effort to extinguish the fire. Since then, they have been helping older refugees, children and pregnant women to find safe shelters, escorting people to health care facilities, clearing debris, and identifying and referring refugees with specific needs to relevant services. They are also running awareness sessions on child protection risks such as child-trafficking and gender-based violence, fire safety, first aid and general assistance.

In addition to critical protection and registration interventions, other urgent needs include first aid and emergency health services, delivery of safe water, construction of tap stands and emergency latrines, shelter and essential aid as well as reconstruction of key infrastructure.

In 2021 UNHCR is seeking US$294.5 million for its Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh. Within this, US$5.9 million is urgently needed to address the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic fire that affected so many Rohingya refugees. To date, UNHCR's operation in Bangladesh is only 20 per cent funded. Additional support is urgently needed. UNHCR is asking government and private sector donors to keep their contributions flexible, thus allowing their use across the overall operation.

The document outlining immediate needs in response to the fire is available here.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Cox's Bazar, Louise Donovan, donovan@unhcr.org, +880 18 4732 7279
  • In Bangkok, Catherine Stubberfield, stubberf@unhcr.org, +66 65 929 8062
  • In Bangkok, Kasita Rochanakorn, rochanak@unhcr.org, +66 64 932 0803
  • In Geneva, Andrej Mahecic, mahecic@unhcr.org, +41 79 642 97 09
  • In New York, Kathryn Mahoney, mahoney@unhcr.org, +1 347 443 7646