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“Tragic Moment”: Rohingya Suffer New Blow as Cox’s Bazar, World’s Largest Refugee Camp, Burns Down

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We get an update on a massive fire at the world’s largest refugee camp: the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The fire killed at least 15 people and displaced 45,000 this week, with hundreds possibly still missing. Bangladeshi authorities are investigating the cause of the fire, which destroyed about 17,000 shelters as the blaze ripped through the crowded camp, leaving behind scenes of utter destruction and despair as people were separated from their loved ones. Nearly a million Rohingya refugees live in southern Bangladesh, often in squalid and dangerous conditions, after fleeing a brutal military crackdown in Burma in 2017. Tun Khin, Rohingya activist and president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, says it is a “very, very tragic moment for the Rohingya people.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we turn to Bangladesh, where a massive fire at a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar killed at least 15 people and displaced at least 45,000 Monday, with hundreds possibly still missing. At least 17,000 shelters were leveled after the blaze ripped through the crowded camp, leaving behind scenes of utter destruction and despair as people were separated from their loved ones.

REFUGEE: [translated] We have lost everything. My husband, and with my two children, came out of the fire, but one of my children is still missing.

AMY GOODMAN: Bangladeshi authorities are investigating the cause of the fire. Nearly a million Rohingya refugees live in southern Bangladesh, often in squalid and dangerous conditions, after fleeing a brutal military crackdown in Burma in 2017. This comes as Burma has been in turmoil for nearly two months after a military coup February 1st that deposed the civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and set off mass nationwide protests. The deadly crackdown on demonstrators has killed at least 286 people in Burma, according to a local rights group.

For more, we are joined by Tun Khin, Rohingya activist, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. Cox’s Bazar is the world’s largest refugee camp. It houses nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence and persecution in Burma.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Describe the conditions on the ground now in this refugee camp. And then we’ll talk about what this means in the midst of the even further military crackdown, from where they fled, in Burma.

TUN KHIN: Thank you, having me. And it is a very, very tragic moment for the Rohingya people. You know, we are receiving very serious conditions, the people of — Rohingya people in Bangladesh. As far as what we know now so far, at least 20 Rohingyas died during the fire. You know, 45,000 people become displaced. And 460, over, the people, they are injured during the fire. So, it is very worrying situation, what can happen tomorrow for these people.

These are our Rohingya brothers and sisters. They fled when their life was at risk in Burma. Because of genocidal acts from Burmese military in 2017, they fled. Now they are having this problem. It is unbelievable. I have no words to express. You know, I received many videos and many calls from our brothers and sisters. This is a really, really tragic moment for us.

And international community have to do serious — have to take serious action, you know, support assistance and medical care, and supporting them psychologically. And there is much going to need to be done, to be honest, I can say.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Tun Khin, what was your response to how the Bangladeshi government responded to the fire? There was a camp inhabitant who was quoted in The New York Times as saying that if the Bangladeshi government had wanted to intervene earlier and stop the fire, they could have.

TUN KHIN: I mean, Bangladesh government giving shelters, protection to the Rohingya refugees, about a million people, we really appreciate Bangladesh government. And Bangladesh government — the people of Bangladesh have shown solidarity and hospitality to the Rohingya people. We will never forget it.

At this moment, what’s the plan? You know, during the fire, Bangladesh government should be done much more, you know, intervene to stop that. Unfortunately, there is barbed wire that prevent to escape the victims. That is very, very important, that that barbed wire shouldn’t be there, you know? That is, the Bangladesh government should consider it. Bangladesh government — I request Bangladesh government should do more. And we appreciate, and we always express our thanks to the Bangladesh — the people of Bangladesh and government of Bangladesh, what they are giving the genocide survivors, a million people given shelter.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tun Khin, could you respond to the impact of the coup in Burma on the condition of the Rohingya who are still there, as well as the ones in the camp? And explain specifically who the coup leader was — is in Burma, Min Aung Hlaing, and his role in the persecution of the Rohingya.

TUN KHIN: This is Min Aung Hlaing. He ordered to kill thousands of Rohingya people in 2017. He ordered to rape thousands of Rohingya women. He ordered to burn alive Rohingya children in 2017 in front of their parents. And at least 380 villages were burned down by his order, you know? That is what happened in 2017. He is the most wanted. He committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity against other minorities. He committed genocide against Rohingya. So, he is very brutal.

We are worrying what can happen. Six hundred thousand Rohingyas are in Burma now. They are still facing genocide. They are not allowed to move from one village to another, not getting access to medical care, not getting access to integration. So, he is the person now that he did — he is military coup leader now. We can see on the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities in Burma what brutality military is doing so, last about two months now. I can feel the pain what our brothers and sisters in Rohingya in 2017 faced, the same pain I can feel for the people of Burma, our brothers and sisters in Rangoon, Mandalay — Taunggyi, today, four people were killed — and, you know, other cities.

So, we are showing our solidarity with our brothers and sisters of our country, from — solidarity with our brothers and sisters from our country. We can pain the feeling, what they are facing. And you can imagine how brutality they have done to Rohingyas. Even now in the cities — you know, Rangoon is the largest city. At the city, they are coming into their house and grabbing the people. And they’re firing bullets from the street, you know, in the middle of the day and nights, and raiding houses. Continually, this is going on. And can you imagine, 7 years —

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Tun, you mentioned — go ahead.

TUN KHIN: Seven-years-old child was, you know, killed by this military terrorist. We are calling them military terrorists, you know, of military terrorist. Min Aung Hlaing is the terrorist leader. People are not calling them Myanmar Army, not Tatmadaw. They are military terrorists in Burma.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Tun Khin, you mentioned earlier what you would like the international community to do. Now, the U.S., as well as the EU, have put sanctions on many of the military leaders, including Min Aung Hlaing, who were involved in the coup. What else do you think needs to be done? And also speak about the role of China. You’ve been very critical of the role that China has played.

TUN KHIN: Definitely. You know, it’s been two months almost now. We have lost 270 people so far. Two hundred and seventy people were killed who are unarmed civilian, peaceful protesters, who were killed by this Myanmar terrorist military. We have not seen practical action from international community yet. How many more lives we have to lose to take action from international community? Every day, the people were killed by this Myanmar terrorist military. Every day — today, four people in Taunggyi — yesterday and the day before yesterday.

So, they are enjoying impunity. One thing, international community, they did not take much action — 2017, thousands of Rohingya were killed — and that there is no such action we have seen so far from international community to take, you know, to punish Min Aung Hlaing, military criminal Min Aung Hlaing, and other generals. That encouraged them. That emboldened them to move forward with enjoying impunity. That is a very important thing.

International community, U.N. Security Council, we are calling — we are appealing referral to ICC Burma, you know, situation of Burma. And military companies need to be sanctioned. International community must cut off military financial institution. That is the most important thing, that military financial, if you can cut off, they can collapse, because military institution, they got a lot of money. So, international community, stop investing, or cutting off military tie and sanction military companies and diplomatic also sanctions needed. And same time, U.N. secretary-general and Security Council, they have to visit Burma to look at what is happening on the ground.

So, international community, we appreciate their concern and their doing individual visa ban. These are not enough. The military generals, they told to U.N. special envoy they’re used to it. They don’t care. So we need to look at much more, to focus what exchange can take, you know? And global arms embargo, that is important. And U.S. companies, U.K., European companies should not invest in Burma at all. China —

AMY GOODMAN: Tun Khin, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we want to thank you very much for being with us. And, of course, we’re going to continue to follow this. Rohingya activist, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.

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