Around 11.30 pm on 12 June, a fire broke out at a Rohingya refugee camp in Delhi’s Madanpur Khadar area razing over 50 makeshift shanties and leaving about 270 residents homeless. The next day, residents told me that most of them lost all their possessions to the fire, including identity proofs such as cards given by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “We barely escaped with the clothes on our back,” Saleema Begum, a 22-year-old resident, said. While no one knew how the fire began, many refugees said there was a concerted effort to harass them. They used to earlier stay in a camp in the adjacent Kalindi Kunj area, till it was burned down in 2018. According to activists I spoke to, the Madanpur Khadar camp was built on land owned by the Uttar Pradesh government’s irrigation department, which wanted to evict the refugees.
No deaths or injuries were reported from the fire, but residents told me about the losses they had endured. When we met on 13 June, Begum was among women and children who were huddled under a shed next to a mosque at the camp, taking shelter from the scorching afternoon sun. “All of us broke our backs trying to rebuild our lives here, saved up money for our children’s education, bought expensive things like coolers so our children can live comfortably through the summer,” she said. “Now all is lost.”