New Delhi, India – A massive Indian fire has destroyed a Rohingya refugee camp in the Indian capital New Delhi, leaving hundreds homeless.
The fire broke out on Saturday at 23:00. Around 30 և quickly spread through the camp, ashing 55 tangled shelters in the Madanpur Khadar district south of the capital. No deaths or serious injuries were reported as a result of the fire. For the second time since 2018, the camp was reduced to ashes.
The fire department of the national capital reported that it had put into operation 15 fire tenders, which had been under control for about six hours. “We rushed to the scene and started extinguishing the fire,” Delip firefighter Sapid told Al Jazeera by telephone on Sunday.
The fire broke out in the camp, where 55 families lived. Filling the sky with buckets of smoke and flames as refugees came to safety, shouting for help.
– Ashima Sharma (@ AshimaS4) June 13, 2021
Sufia Khatun, 32, was sleeping in her cabin with her mother and child when the fire broke out. It started in an abandoned cabin, he said.
“When we saw the fire, I grabbed my mother’s hand, raised my baby’s arms and ran to the security outside the camp,” Khatun said. “We lost everything. The fire destroyed even the small amount of cash we had saved for our daily needs. We do not have a single [Indian] rupee to buy water. “
He appealed to the government և aid groups for food and shelter assistance.
Documents without documents
Delhi-based activist Asif Mujtaba told Al Jazeera that his group was one of the first to help when the flames were extinguished.
“We took those in need of medical care to nearby hospitals, provided water and food for the refugees,” Mujtaba said, adding that he was appealing to officials to help set up an interim relief camp in the heat of the summer. “We are drawing the details of the families who suffered casualties in the fire,” he said.
Another volunteer, Ahmad Kamal, opened the doors of a nearby dormitory to shelter a Rohingya overnight, providing them with food and water.
“We were hungry. “Some people came here in the morning and gave us bananas and milk,” said Tayab Begum, a 45-year-old refugee.
Some 40,000 Rohingya refugees, most of them undocumented, live in camps in Indian cities, including Maimara, Hyderabad and Nuh. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has issued refugee cards to some of them, helping them access some basic services, presumably to protect them from police action.
More than 750,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in Bangladesh in 2017 after the Myanmar army launched a crackdown on a Muslim minority who have been persecuted by the Myanmar authorities for decades. Bangladesh currently holds more than one million Rohingya in tight and inconsolable camps along its border with Myanmar.
Large numbers of Rohingya have also found refuge in neighboring Asian countries, including India and Malaysia.
The fire is taking place amid pressure from the Indian government on Rohingya refugees living in the country. In March, police detained more than 200 refugees in the city of Jam Jam New Delhi, saying they were living in the country “illegally”.
India’s Hindu nationalist government has said it will deport Rohingya refugees to Myanmar in violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the return of refugees to a country where they will be tortured. Human rights groups have warned of deporting Rohingya to Myanmar, which also saw a military coup in February.
So far, the Supreme Court of India has blocked their deportation. But 300 refugees are still imprisoned.
What caused the fire?
While police are investigating the fire, some refugees have not ruled out sabotage.
“The fire was apparently caused by a short circuit,” Bharat Singh, a Delhi police investigator, told Al aze Azira from the camp.
“Forensic experts collected samples of electrical wires on the spot to determine the cause of the fire.”
However, the refugees say a “deliberate arson” of the camp cannot be ruled out, as men belonging to right-wing Hindu groups have previously been accused of setting fire to the camp.
Khatun, a refugee who fled with Mati և’s child, said the hut where the fire originated had no electricity or cable.
Another Rohingya, 38-year-old Mohammad Farouk, said that masked men had come to the camp hours before the fire and told the refugees to leave the country. They removed it, thinking it was just another warning they regularly encountered.
“We do not know if anyone lit a fire or if it was natural, but we want to say to those men, ‘What will you get by putting pressure on us?’ said Farouk. “We are human beings like you, we have children like you.”
Hindu groups backing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been fighting for the deportation of Rohingya refugees, saying they pose a security threat to India because they want to seize the land.
“These kinds of incidents happen regularly. This year the camp is on fire for the third time. “We suspect there are men behind it,” said Ali Har Ohar, a Rohingya activist in New Delhi.
“We often hear threats from people, including the authorities, that we will bulldoz your camps.”