top of page
  • Writer's pictureSahat Zia Hero

The 'Great Fire' Disaster: One woman's heartbreaking tale from the ashes of the Rohingya refugee tragedy

Updated: Apr 29

Zaudha. 2021 © Sahat Zia Hero

Zaudha was 40 years old when this photograph was taken. Like so many other Rohingya refugees, she will forever remember March 22, 2021 as the day the devastating "Great Fire" broke out in the camps. The blaze came suddenly from multiple directions, sweeping through the area with storm-like ferocity and reducing everything in its path to ashes. An estimated 50,000 people lost their homes, and tragically, many lives were claimed by the inferno.

“I took a photo of Zaudha crying while looking at what was left of her home. She had returned once the flames had stopped. With the smoke and heat, she was afraid to go down the hill to look for the spot where her home once was. She cried and shouted loudly: ‘Our lives have burnt!’. I didn’t have enough words to express my sadness to her. She was my neighbour, my home was beside her house. It was also destroyed. The smoke was all that was left of our homes.” —explained Sahat Zia Hero.

The video below features Sahat Zia Hero discussing his photography practice and providing further context about this photograph of Zaudha amid the aftermath of the devastating Rohingya refugee camp fire.

Sahat Zia Hero is a multifaceted talent—a photographer, writer, human rights activist, and the founder of Rohingyatographer Magazine. In 2023, he received two significant recognitions for his work on this project: the Prince Claus Seeds Award and Nansen Refugee Regional Award.


Born in 1994 in Maungdaw, Arakan, Myanmar, he was on a path to study Physics at Sittwe University, however, systematic discrimination against the Rohingya community curtailed his academic journey. Forced to flee Myanmar with his family in August 2017, he now lives in the refugee camp in Bangladesh. There, he initially served as a team leader for the Danish Refugee Council and currently balances freelance photography for NGOs and media outlets with managing the magazine project and working at the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre.

He is a recurring contributor to the Rohingya Photo Competition. His work has been showcased in venues such as the Oxford Human Rights Festival, Liberation War Museum, Cox’s Bazar Cultural Centre, Head On Photo Festival in Sydney, and the Rohingya Centre of Canada.


Tragically, he was one of the victims of the catastrophic fires that swept through the refugee camps in March 2021, leaving 50,000 Rohingya homeless. "After the fire, I returned to find only ashes where my home used to be. It was the second time I had lost everything," he recalls. Yet, he documented the ordeal using his phone and later published his first photobook, Rohingyatography, in 2021. That year, he was also nominated for the UNICEF Photographer of the Year Award.


Beyond photography, Sahat writes in English, Burmese, and Rohingya. His poetry appeared in the 2020 anthology Rohingya Dreams, published by the Danish Refugee Council with European Union support. He has also co-authored various academic articles. For a list of his published works, both photographic and written, please click here. 


This feature is part of The Rohingya Experience, an exhibition set in St Helier, Island of Jersey during July 2024, developed by Rohingyatographer, a collective of Rohingya refugee photographers in partnership with Jersey Overseas Aid.



bottom of page