Thousands of Rohingya have been left homeless after a fire gutted parts of their refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh, police said.
About 850,000 of the persecuted mostly Muslim minority, many of whom escaped a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar that the United Nations investigators concluded was executed with “genocidal intent”, live in a network of camps in Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar.
“About 1,200 houses were burnt in the fire,” said Kamran Hossain, a spokesman for the Armed Police Battalion, which heads security in the camp, on Sunday.
The fire started at Camp 16 and raced through shelters made of bamboo and tarpaulin, leaving more than 5,000 people homeless, he said.
“The fire started at 4:40pm [10:40 GMT] and was brought under control at around 6:30 pm,” he told the AFP news agency.
Mohammed Shamsud Douza, a Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said emergency workers had brought the fire under control. The cause of the blaze has not been established, he added.
‘I lost my dream’
Abdur Rashid, 22, said the fire was so big that he ran for safety as his house and furniture were engulfed in flames.
“Everything in my house was burned. My baby and wife were out. There were a lot of things in the house,” he told AFP.
“I saved 30,000 taka [350 dollars] from working as a day labourer. The money was burned in the fire.”
“I am now under open sky. I lost my dream.”
In March last year, 15 people died and about 50,000 were left homeless in Bangladesh after a huge fire destroyed Rohingya homes in the world’s biggest refugee settlement.
Mohammad Yasin, 29, bemoaned the lack of fire safety equipment in the camps.
“Fire occurs here frequently. There was no way we could put out the fire. There was no water. My home is burned. Many documents, which I brought from Myanmar, are also burned. And it is cold here,” he said.
Another blaze tore through a COVID-19 treatment centre for refugees in another refugee camp in the district last Sunday, causing no casualties.
Bangladesh has been praised for taking in refugees who fled across the border from Myanmar, but has had little success finding them permanent homes.
Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have for years sailed to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to look for refuge.
Last month, Indonesia allowed a boat packed with Rohingya refugees, which had become stranded off its coast, to dock after calls from aid organisations to allow the vessel to seek refuge.