A fire in an internally displaced persons camp in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state destroyed more than 400 huts on Tuesday, leaving more than 1,700 ethnic Rohingya homeless, a local police official said.
Initial reports indicate that 14 people have been injured with unconfirmed reports that there may be fatalities, according to a statement issued by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Fifty-five bamboo longhouses, each containing eight rooms, burned down as the fire got under way after 9 a.m. at the Bawdupa No. 2 camp near the provincial capital Sittwe, said district police Lt.-Col. Win Naung.
It is one of eight camps built for Rohingya Muslims displaced by communal violence in 2012.
Bawdupa No. 2 camp has 150 longhouses in all, containing 1,200 huts—more than 400 of which burned in the conflagration, Win Naung said.
Local authorities are now scrambling to provide meals and shelter to those affected, he said.
“We have opened a help center for the fire victims arranged by the minister of security and border affairs,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “The relevant authorities have been providing them with food and places to stay, and are trying to replace their destroyed homes as soon as possible.”
Humanitarian organizations are helping authorities provide medical aid and shelter, and in the coming days will assess humanitarian needs such as food, water and sanitation, OCHA’s statement said.
The fire may have been started accidentally by an unattended kitchen stove and spread by the wind to neighboring housing units, local media reported.
Persecution by authorities
About 1.1 million Rohingya live in Rakhine state where authorities have imposed harsh restrictions on their movement, access to jobs and social services such as health care, and their right to vote or run for office.
Some 140,000 were displaced after violence erupted four years ago between the Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists, leaving more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless. The Rohingya, who bore the brunt of the attacks, were later forced to live under apartheid-like conditions in the squalid camps.
About 120,000 Rohingya remain in the camps, while thousands of others have fled persecution in the Buddhist-dominated country on rickety boats to other Southeast Asian countries in recent years.
Some government officials and nationalist Buddhists call the Rohingya “Bengalis” because they consider them to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.
At least 20 Muslims from the Sin Tet Maw displacement camp in Rakhine’s Pauktaw township, banned by authorities from traveling by road, drowned last month when their overcrowded boat capsized in rough waters as it sailed to Sittwe.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) party came to power last month has come under fire in the past for not speaking up on behalf of the Rohingya.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Reported in English by Roseanne Gerin.