Huge fire at Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh leaves thousands without shelter


The blaze erupted in Cox’s Bazar where more than a million Rohingya refugees live, most after fleeing a military-led crackdown in Myanmar

Guardian staff with agencies

Mon 6 Mar 2023

A massive fire raced through a crammed refugee camp for Rohingya Muslims in southern Bangladesh on Sunday, leaving thousands homeless, officials said.

The blaze erupted at Camp 11 in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern border district where more than a million Rohingya refugees live. Most of the refugees fled a military-led crackdown in Myanmar in 2017, and the fire left some of them homeless again.

The fire rapidly engulfed the bamboo-and-tarpaulin shelters, Mijanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, told AFP.

“Some 2,000 shelters have been burnt, leaving about 12,000 forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals shelterless,” he said.

Rafiqul Islam, additional police superintendent at Cox’s Bazar told Reuters: “We currently don’t have an estimate for damages but there are no reports of casualties.”

Rohingya refugees collect drinking water at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh, September 2022.

He added that the blaze was under control and senior officials from the fire, police and refugee relief departments were at the site.

Faruque Ahmed, a local police official, said the cause of the fire was not clear.

At least 35 mosques and 21 learning centres for the refugees were also destroyed, though there were no reports of any injuries or deaths, he added.

Rohingya refugees search for their belongings after a fire broke out in their camp in Bangladesh on 5 March.
Rohingya refugees search for their belongings after a fire broke out in their camp in Bangladesh on 5 March. Photograph: Tanbir Miraz/AFP/Getty Images

The UNHCR in Bangladesh said in a tweet that Rohingya refugee volunteers were responding to the fire with the agency and its partners providing support. It provided no further details.

Refugee Selim Ullah, a father of six children, said he “couldn’t save anything”.

“Everything burnt to ashes. Many are without homes. I don’t know what will happen to us,” the 40-year-old said.

“When we were in Myanmar we faced lots of problems… our houses were burned down, he said. “Now it has happened again.”

The refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are prone to such blazes.

A Bangladesh defence ministry report last month said that between January 2021 and December 2022, there were 222 fire incidents in the Rohingya camps – including 60 cases of arson.

Smoke rises after a huge fire broke out at the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar.
Smoke rises after a huge fire broke out at the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In March 2021, in what was the worst blaze in the Rohingya camps, at least 15 people were killed and some 50,000 were displaced after a fire engulfed an entire block in a settlement.

More than 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar over several decades, including about 740,000 who crossed the border starting in August 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a brutal crackdown.

Conditions in Myanmar have worsened since a military takeover in 2021, and attempts to send back the refugees have failed.

Muslim Rohingya face widespread discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where most are denied citizenship and many other rights.

Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse


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