COX’S BAZAR: A massive fire raced through a sprawling Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Monday, destroying hundreds of shelters and leaving people homeless, officials and witnesses said.
The fire at Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar district broke out in the late afternoon and spread quickly through at least four blocks, said Mohammad Shamsud Douza, additional commissioner of the refugee, relief and repatriation commission. He said at least four teams of firefighters were struggling to control the blaze due to its rapid spread.
Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said in an email that fire services, rescue and response teams and volunteers were at the place.
“So far the fire has affected shelters, health centers, distribution points and other facilities. Volunteers are supporting those affected,” she said.
No casualties were immediately reported, but deaths and injuries were feared. No details on the missing could be confirmed. Two Rohingya refugees told the associated press that the fire had spread very quickly.
Several videos posted on social media showed clouds of smoke billowing from the camp.
Bangladesh has sheltered more than a million Rohingya Muslims, of which the vast majority has fled to Myanmar in 2017 in a major crackdown by Myanmar’s military. The UN has said the crackdown had a genocidal intent, a charge that Myanmar rejects.
Bangladesh has hosted the refugees in crowded camps and is eager to begin sending them back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Many attempts at repatriation under a joint agreement failed because the Rohingya refused to go, fearing more violence in a country that denies them basic rights including citizenship.
Earlier, in January as well, fire destroyed hundreds of shanty-like homes in the camp, leaving many people homeless.