Thousands left homeless after fire rips through Rohingya camp in Bangladesh

‘It is another devastating blow to the Rohingya refugees who live here’, Country Director of Save the Children in Bangladesh says

A fire in the Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh has destroyed thousands of homes and killed several people, officials and witnesses have said in the wake of one of the worst blazes to hit the settlement in recent years.

While neither UN nor Bangladeshi officials engaged with the camp could confirm the number of deaths, refugees in the settlement said several had died in the fire that had torn through the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar.

Footage of the scene showed black smoke billowing over burning tents and makeshift homes, with the cause of the fire currently unknown.

“Fire services, rescue and response teams and volunteers are at the scene to try to control the fire and prevent it spreading further,” said Louise Donovan, spokesperson for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar.

Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said authorities were trying to control the blaze.

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The camps in southern Bangladesh are home to more than a million Rohingya muslims, the majority having fled Myanmar in 2017 amid a military crackdown UN investigators said had “genocidal intent” - charged Myanmar denies.

It comes after another large blaze in January destroyed homes but was believed to have caused no casualties.

Risk of fire in the densely packed settlements are high, however Onno Van Manen, Country Director of Save the Children in Bangladesh, said Monday’s blaze was the largest yet.

“It is another devastating blow to the Rohingya refugees who live here. Just a couple of days ago we lost one of our health facilities in another fire,” he said.

Zaifur Hussein, a 50-year-old refugee who escaped the fire but lost his home and was sheltering with friends, said he believed dozens may have been killed and that fencing around the camps made it difficult to flee.

“When we were in Myanmar we faced lots of problems… they destroyed everything,” he said. “Now it has happened again.”

Snigdha Chakraborty, the Bangladesh director for Catholic Relief Services, said she was worried about the lack of medical facilities in the area.

“Medical facilities are basic and burns require sophisticated treatment, plus hospital beds are already partly taken up with COVID-19 patients,” she said.

“Most likely there will be fatalities because the fire is so large.”

Meanwhile A Rohingya leader in Cox’s Bazar, a sliver of land bordering Myanmar in southeastern Bangladesh, said he saw several dead bodies.

“Thousand of huts were totally burned down,” Mohammed Nowkhim told Reuters.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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