A massive fire swept through a Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Monday, destroying thousands of homes and killing an unknown number of people, officials and witnesses said.
The blaze tore through the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, a coastal area bordering Myanmar in southeastern Bangladesh. Black smoke billowed over burning shanties and tents as people scrambled to escape with their few possessions.
At least 10,000 refugees have been displaced and an unknown number killed or injured.
Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said authorities were trying to control the blaze.
Rohingya refugees in the camps said many homes were burned to the ground and several people had died, but neither the authorities nor the UNHCR could confirm the number of deaths. The cause of the blaze has not been established.
More than a million Rohingya live in the camps, the majority having fled Myanmar in 2017 from a military-led crackdown that UN investigators said was executed with “genocidal intent.”
Zaifur Hussein, a 50-year-old refugee who escaped the fire but lost his home, told Reuters that fencing around the camps made it difficult to escape the flames and he believed dozens may have been killed.
“When we were in Myanmar, we faced lots of problems – they destroyed everything,” he said. “Now, it has happened again.”
Snigdha Chakraborty, Bangladesh director for Catholic Relief Services, said, “Medical facilities in the camp are basic, and burns require sophisticated treatment. Plus, hospital beds are already mostly taken up with Covid-19 patients.”
Another large blaze tore through the camp in January, destroying homes but causing no casualties.
The risk of fire in the densely populated camps is high, and Monday’s blaze was the largest yet, said Onno van Manen, country director of Save the Children in Bangladesh.
“It is another devastating blow to the Rohingya refugees who live here,” he said.