Initial reports suggest 14 are injured, says the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
YANGON, Myanmar (May 3, 2016) — A major fire on Tuesday, May 3, damaged or destroyed the homes of some 2,000 Rohingya Muslims living in a camp for people displaced by 2012 communal fighting in western Myanmar.
The charred remains of wooden shelters and twisted metal roofs were visible through a thick haze of smoke after the fire broke out in the early morning, a stark reminder of dire living conditions for over 100,000 Rohingya confined to a network of bleak camps in Rakhine state.
Authorities said a cooking stove caused the blaze at the Bawdupa camp near the state capital Sittwe, with strong winds believed to have spread flames from house to house in the tinder-dry area.
A statement from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said initial reports suggested 14 people had been injured, with unconfirmed reports that there could have been fatalities.
“An estimated 440 households (about 2,000 individuals) were affected, but exact numbers are unconfirmed,” it said, adding that humanitarian organizations were working to provide shelter and other necessities.
It said 44 barracks-style housing blocks, which hold up to 8 families each, were completely destroyed by the fire. Up to 9 more were badly damaged.
Some 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya, have been trapped in grim displacement camps since they were driven from their homes by waves of violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims 4 years ago.
The conflict left Rakhine state deeply scarred, effectively segregating communities on religious grounds and depressing the local economy.
It also stoked wider Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar, which has seen outbreaks of anti-Muslim bloodshed in other areas in recent years.
Rakhine’s Rohingya are labelled “Bengali” by hardline Buddhists and many government officials, who brand them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though many can trace their ancestry back generations.
Faced with apartheid-like restrictions that limit access to jobs, education, and healthcare, thousands have braved perilous boat journeys in search of better lives in Malaysia and Indonesia.
An exodus last year sparked a regional crisis and a crackdown on smuggling routes.
Last month at least 20 Muslims from a Rakhine displacement camp drowned when their boat capsized in choppy waters while it was traveling to a market in Sittwe.
Passengers said they were forced to take the dangerous sea route because authorities ban them from traveling by road.