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Source: Save The Children

Children play in the rubble following last week’s fire. Photo: Ummay Habiba/Save the Children. More content available here

The deadly fire that ripped through the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, last week destroyed 163 learning spaces, putting education out of reach for 13,226 Rohingya children, according to aid agencies delivering education support in the camps.  

Save the Children estimates that it will take more than three months to rebuild these facilities, pushing Rohingya children further behind when their peers in other parts of Bangladesh go back to school in May following COVID-19 related closures. 

All 18 learning spaces run by Save the Children in the camps that were affected by the fires were destroyed, along with all their books and educational materials.  

Save the Children’s mental health team has been supporting children who have been affected by the fire. Some children are showing signs of being re-traumatised, having already fled fires in Myanmar. Mental health workers report that children are refusing to eat or play, and some are unable to sleep and have been waking up and running away from imagined fire.

A Rohingya teacher who works for a partner of Save the Children partner said: 

“It was a horrible experience for both me and my wife as she is also a teacher at another learning space. We were distraught that we could not save any of our own belongings, nor any learning materials including books, notebooks, blackboards… everything was burnt. The places where we were able to meet with the learners, listen to their worries, and spend time together are now lost.” 

The teacher was most concerned for the younger children. He said: 

“The students might be traumatised. They are not talking about learning at the moment as they are extremely hungry most of the time, and they are in dire need of clothes. We are visiting them every day to console  and assess their situation. They are now starting to return from other camps where they fled following the fire, and spending their nights under tarpaulins. I don’t know when the learning spaces will be rebuilt again, who will support us and how will we get through our suffering?” 

Save the Children’s Country Director in Bangladesh, Onno van Manen, said: 

“Given the limited space in the densely populated camps, these 163 learning spaces have been critical for girls and boys who find this is the only safe space for them to play and learn. And specially for adolescent girls whose parents’ do not permit them to leave their shelters due to cultural norms and fears of potential abuse. For more than 13,000 children not just their education, but also this safety is now completely out of reach.” 

“Rohingya refugee children have already had their education hugely disrupted, and now they will be dragged even further behind. After nearly four years in the camps their schooling is still not formally recognised by either Bangladesh or Myanmar, and they cannot receive any accreditations. Any hopes they had of an education have literally gone up in flames.” 

“Right now, our priority is to build back better: to rebuild these facilities in a more sustainable way that protects refugees from further harm and to improve the quality of the education. We are asking for stronger, more fire-resistant materials, for the development of comprehensive evacuation plans and we will continue to advocate for better quality and formally recognized and accredited education for Rohingya children.” 

Following the fire, Save the Children has been providing emergency food rations, has established 20 mobile child-friendly spaces and is working to provide psychological first aid to young children traumatized by the fire. Save the Children is also working with our partners to resume our education programming under the tarpaulin and emergency shelters, until the facilities can be rebuilt.

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MIL OSI