COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — A devastating fire raced through a sprawling Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Monday, destroying hundreds of shelters and leaving thousands 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 government’s Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission. He said at least four units of firefighters were struggling to control the blaze due to its rapid spread.
Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, said in an email that fire services, rescue and response teams and volunteers were at the scene.
“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 at the scene that the fire had spread very quickly and continued to rage into the night Monday.
Several videos posted on social media showed clouds of smoke billowing from the camp.
Bangladesh has sheltered more than a million Rohingya Muslims, the vast majority having fled Myanmar in 2017 in a major crackdown by Myanmar’s military. The U.N. has said the crackdown had a genocidal intent, a charge Myanmar rejects.
Bangladesh has hosted the refugees in crowded refugee camps and is eager to begin sending them back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Several 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.
In January, another fire destroyed hundreds of shanty-like homes in the camp, leaving thousands without shelter.