Thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have been left without shelter after a fire ripped through a refugee camp, burning hundreds of homes, officials say.
The blaze tore through the tightly packed complex of bamboo and tarpaulin shelters in the early hours of the day at a camp in the country’s southeast, refugee commissioner Mizanur Rahman said on Sunday. There is suspicion of arson, the official has said.
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Bangladesh is home to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, many of whom have taken refuge there since a 2017 military crackdown on the mainly Muslim minority in neighbouring Myanmar. Those events are now the subject of a United Nations genocide probe.
“At least 711 shelters were fully burned and 63 were partially damaged,” Rahman said, adding that five education centres and two mosques were also destroyed. He said the fire made 4,000 people homeless.
There were no casualties, and the fire has been brought under control, he added.
“We have ordered a probe into the fire,” he added. “We suspect it is an act of arson”.
Shafiqul Islam, the head of the Ukhiya Fire Station, separately told The Associated Press news agency that the fire broke out at approximately midnight at the Kutupalong camp in Ukhiya and spread quickly, fanned by strong winds.
“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.”
Islam said that although it is not confirmed, preliminary statements from the refugees suggested that it was caused by a mud oven.
The UN refugee agency said the “large fire damaged many refugee shelters”, adding that it was “supporting people affected”.
Fires and violence common in camps
Fires in the dozens of Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh are common, especially during the dry season from November to April.
But many of the camps are also riven by violence between rival Rohingya groups.
Police say security in the camps has worsened, with more than 60 refugees killed in turf wars and drug-related clashes last year, the highest number on record.
In March 2023, a fire in Kutupalong camp – one of the world’s largest refugee settlements – destroyed 2,000 shelters.
Two years earlier, at least 15 Rohingya were killed and 50,000 left homeless after a blaze in the same camp.
Conditions in Myanmar have worsened since a military takeover in 2021 and attempts to send back the Rohingya 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.