Massive blaze at Rohingya camp renders thousands homeless in Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees search for their belongings after a fire broke out in Balukhali refugee camp in Ukhia, Cox's bazar, Bangladesh, 05 March 2023.

Thousands of people have been left without shelter after a massive fire broke out in a crowded Rohingya refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh.

The blaze, which broke out on Sunday, engulfed some 2,000 shelters at a camp known as Cox’s Bazar. Hundreds of people have now returned to the area to see what they can salvage from the ruins.

It is estimated around 12,000 people, most of whom escaped violence in neighbouring Myanmar, are now homeless.

The cause of the fire is not yet known and no casualties have been reported. The blaze started at about 14:45 local time and quickly tore through the bamboo-and-tarpaulin shelters, an official said.

“Some 2,000 shelters have been burnt, leaving about 12,000 forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals shelterless,” Mijanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, told AFP news agency.

The blaze was brought under control within three hours but at least 35 mosques and 21 learning centres for the refugees were also destroyed, he added. Photos are now emerging that show the extent of the devastation.

Many of those who lived there can be seen picking through the charred area, where only metal struts and singed corrugated roofing remains. Thick black clouds were seen rising above Camp 11, one of many in the border district where more than a million Rohingya refugees live.

Rohingya refugee camp that has been destroyed after a fire broke out

The camps, overcrowded and squalid, are vulnerable to fires. Between January 2021 and December 2022, there were 222 fire incidents in the Rohingya camps including 60 cases of arson, according to a Bangladesh defence ministry report released last month. In March 2021, at least 15 people were killed and some 50,000 were displaced after a huge fire tore through a camp in the settlement.

The refugee camp, said to be the world’s largest, houses people who fled from Myanmar following a military crackdown against the Rohingya ethnic minority. The Rohingya are Muslims in largely Buddhist Myanmar, where they have faced persecution for generations.

The latest exodus of Rohingya escaping to Bangladesh began in August 2017, after Myanmar’s military brutally retaliated when a Rohingya insurgent group launched attacks on several police posts.

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