A massive fire broke out at a Rohingya refugee camp in Southeast Delhi’s Kalindi Kunj on Saturday night, destroying 56 shanties and leaving more than 300 people homeless. The fire broke out at 11.55 pm inside a house before it engulfed the entire camp.
Atul Garg, Delhi Fire Services Chief, said, “We received a call around 11.55 pm about the blaze and rushed with five fire tenders. Residents were immediately evacuated and firefighting operations were initiated. There were no casualties but the fire spread to all the shanties. It was brought under control by 3 am.”
A DFS official said, “Prima facie the fire started from a house due to a short circuit or sparking in the main wire. Later, cylinders exploded and the fire spread rapidly.”
This is not the first time that the refugees have been left on the streets. In 2018, many of them lost their homes in a fire at a nearby camp in Madanpur Khadar. The families then moved to the new camp in the same area, which was destroyed on Saturday.
On Sunday morning, women and children sat under a small tent by the roadside and waited for volunteers to give them slippers, soaps, sanitary napkins, and other essential items. The men, meanwhile, lined up near the Kalindi Kunj Metro station to collect dry ration, food, and clothes.
Several residents searched through the rubble and ashes to check if any of their belongings could be salvaged. Many said they didn’t have the time last night to take their documents and money.
Sajda Begam, one of the residents, said she lives with her two children aged 10 and 8. Her husband died years ago and she works as a labourer.
“We came here (Delhi) for a better life but it has been very difficult. Last night, we were all sleeping when the fire broke out. I didn’t have the time to pack anything and rushed outside with my children. We had some cash and documents in the house… it’s all gone now. What will we do?” said Sajda, as she sent her children to talk to the volunteers and get three pairs of slippers.
Sitting near Sajda, her neighbour Sufiya cried after her husband told her that he couldn’t find her sewing machine, his shoes and their children’s books.
“My husband started a shoe shop last year in the area. He lost his job due to the pandemic and was happy after his shoes were selling. Last night, we lost (shoe) products worth Rs 50,000. That was all we had. I make clothes but I lost my machine. My mother-in-law is old and handicapped. We are tired and want to rest… we have nothing left,” said Sufiya, who has five children.
Many of the families said they don’t know how they will rebuild their lives after losing everything again. Most of them have also been unemployed due to the lockdown.
Ravi Alam, who worked at a repair shop in Noida, said he has no job and no place to rest: “I have three children and no money to feed them. They have been walking barefoot since last night, trying to find bottles and ration in the ashes. My wife suffered minor injuries and is unwell. I want to buy medicines for her but don’t have money.”
Some residents alleged that a group of men came to the camp on Saturday evening and threatened to burn the place if they don’t leave. The Delhi Police said they have received a few complaints and will look into these allegations.
DCP (Southeast) RP Meena said, “We helped the fire staff and disaster management team with the rescue operation. The cause of the fire is not known yet and appropriate legal action is being taken regarding the same.”