The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sunday reported a massive fire in the Balukhali refugee camp. The camp in southeast Bangladesh is home to tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees. UNHCR officials reported an estimated 2,0000 shelters and 90 hospitals, schools and other essential structures destroyed. Nearly 12,000 people lost everything in the fire.
The camp is one of dozens in the area that house close to a million Rohingya refugees. The Muslim minority from neighboring Myanmar has faced decades of ethnic and religious persecution. Successive civilian and military governments of Myanmar considered them stateless with no protected rights. State-sponsored campaigns of violence and intimidation led to the mass exodus across the border to relative safety in Bangladesh.
The large and sustained influx of refugees puts immense pressure on Bangladeshi authorities. So far they have been able to meet daily survival strategies of dispersing food, shelter and limited other services. However, much larger challenges remain. Because the Rohingya fled persecution and are considered stateless, they may not be returned to their country of origin. The UNHCR has called on signatories to the 1951 Convention on Refugees and other human rights treaties to meet their obligations to groups under such conditions. A 2022 UN Joint Response Plan outlines goals for members to abate the ongoing crisis. Commitments to extending aid beyond daily survival to encompass healthcare, education and employment are needed. The plan also encourages more long-term solutions such as ending the cycle of violence in Myanmar and resettlement of the Rohingya.
The Rohingya humanitarian crisis is one of the largest and oldest in the world. In a recent decision, the International Court of Justice voted 15-1 to allow genocide proceedings to commence against Myanmar.