Hundreds of shanties gutted, leaving thousands homeless, as devastating fire races through the sprawling camps.
A fire has destroyed more than 20 shops in a makeshift market near a Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, killing at least three people, police and witnesses said.
Local police chief Ahmed Sanjur Morshed on Friday said they recovered the bodies from the debris after it took firefighters several hours to bring the blaze under control.
Several other people were injured in the blaze, the second deadly fire in less than two weeks.
The fire broke out early on Friday when residents of the sprawling Kutupalong camp – home to more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar – were asleep.
Sayedul Mustafa, the owner of a shop, confirmed the dead were his staff.
“We had five workers who slept in the shop but three of them were missing. Then after the fire was put out with water, we found one body first, then all three. Two people survived by the grace of Allah,” Aneesul Mustafa, a Rohingya refugee and the owner’s relative, told The Associated Press news agency.
It was not clear how the fire began.
Local fire chief Imdadul Hoque said the latest blaze would have been catastrophic had it not been quickly controlled as the market is close to tens of thousands of highly inflammable bamboo and tarpaulin shanties where most of the Rohingya live.
Two other serious fires this year have also set alarm bells ringing over safety conditions in the camps where about one million of the Muslim refugees have been living since fleeing military clampdowns in neighbouring Myanmar in recent years.
Aid agencies and the government had started rebuilding shelters after a massive fire on March 22 killed 15 people, while 560 others were injured and about 45,000 became homeless. They are still investigating the cause of that blaze.
In January, a fire swept through at Nayapara camp, another Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar that left thousands without shelter. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 550 shelters – home to at least 3,500 people – were either totally or partially destroyed in the blaze, as well as 150 shops and a facility belonging to a non-profit organisation.
Authorities have sent about 13,000 refugees to an island in recent months, promising a better life for more than one million Rohingya, most of whom fled Myanmar in 2017 following a major crackdown by the country’s military.
Bangladesh has hosted the refugees in crowded camps and is eager to begin sending them back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar, but several attempts failed because the Rohingya refused to go, fearing more violence in a country that denies them basic rights including citizenship.
The repatriation effort was made even more uncertain in February, when Myanmar’s military staged a coup and replaced the elected, civilian government that had been in office since 2016.