A fire in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh guts more than 1,000 shelters

The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, said that fire response volunteers worked with the firefighters to bring the blaze under control

Published - January 07, 2024 09:23 pm IST - COX'S BAZAR

Firefighters work to douse flames at a Rohingya refugee camp at Kutupalong in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh, early Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024.

Firefighters work to douse flames at a Rohingya refugee camp at Kutupalong in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh, early Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

A fire raced through a crammed camp of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh's southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar, gutting more than 1,000 shelters and leaving thousands homeless, a fire official and the United Nations said on Sunday.

The fire broke out around midnight on Saturday at Kutupalong camp in Ukhiya and spread quickly, fanned by strong winds, Shafiqul Islam, head of the Ukhiya Fire Station said.

No casualties were reported, he said.

“The fire was big, and it destroyed about 1,040 shelters in the camp,” he said. “We took about two hours to get the blaze under control, engaging 10 fire units from Ukhiya and other stations in the district.”

Thousands of refugees, including women and children, rushed to a nearby open field with their belongings as the fire started spreading aggressively during the early hours on January 7.

“We are suffering from the cold severely, facing a difficult situation. Currently, we are sitting by a stream with my grandchildren after narrowly escaping a life-threatening situation. Our homes have been destroyed by the fire.” said 65-year-old Zuhura Begum.

The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, said in an email to the AP that fire response volunteers worked with the firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

An assessment of the extent of the damage is being made, it said.

Rohingya refugees work on rebuilding their makeshift shelters after a fire broke out in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, January 7, 2024.

Rohingya refugees work on rebuilding their makeshift shelters after a fire broke out in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, January 7, 2024. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

While it was not immediately clear how the fire started, Mr. Islam said that preliminary statements from the refugees suggested that it was caused by a mud oven.

Fire in the refugee camps is common and in the past similar incidents have gutted thousands of homes.

In March, a fire left thousands of refugees homeless temporarily.

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 late 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. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said on several occasions that the refugees would not be sent back by force. Rights groups say conditions in Myanmar are not conducive for repatriation.

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

In 2022, the United States confirmed accounts of mass atrocities against civilians by the Myanmar military in a systematic campaign against the ethnic minority. The U.S. said the brutal oppression of Rohingya in Myanmar amounts to genocide.

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