08/21/2019, 17.14
BANGLADESH
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Mirpur slum fire victims blame arson set to clear them out

by Sumon Corraya

Survivors say they could smell kerosene when their homes were burning. Residents blame Md. Elias Uddin Mollah, an Awami League MP. Caritas will start distributing aid.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Someone "set fire to make us go away. Someone powerful is behind all this,” said a survivor after fire swept through the Chalantika slum in Mirpur, Dhaka, who added, “We have hurt no one. We know the land is owned by the government. It would have been better if the authorities had told us to leave and given us another place to live.”

Last Friday evening, 1,500 shacks were torched, their plastic roofs making the blaze spread faster. Many people believe the Mirpur fire was deliberate.

"We could smell kerosene,” said Saidul Islam, another resident of the devastated slum. A rickshaw driver, Saidul has three children, and has lived in the informal settlement for 10 years after coming to the capital from Rongpur (northern Bangladesh).

“The fire was set in the north and south,” he explained. “I think that somebody set fire intentionally to remove us because it (the fire) could not come from both sides.”

"I was not in Dhaka when the fire broke out, I was in my village at Mymensingh,” said Ms Mirzuna Begum. “As soon as we heard the news, we came to Dhaka. Nothing remains of our home. We don't know where to go; we might have to spend the night in the street.”

The Rupnagar Public Works Department owns the area where the fire occurred. Many of those who lived in the slum believe a powerful Member of Parliament is behind the fire: Md Elias Uddin Mollah, member of the Awami League party.

Saidul thinks “The local MP wants to remove us from the slum for high rise buildings”. For his part, the politician rejects the accusations.

"This is a false allegation against me,” he said. “People might say many things, but I want peace; I don’t want unrest. A few years ago, in an arson incident in Kalshi (Mirpur), I was the main accused. People can make up stories against a political figure. "

Residents are currently forced to live outdoors. Although they have been authorised to build new homes, they do not have the money.

In light of the situation, Joyti Gomes, regional director of Caritas of Dhaka, said that " we will soon start to distribute food and clothes and build shelters for fire victims.”

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