The United Nations said on Tuesday that 15 people have been killed and more than 400 are missing in a massive fire that swept through a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar district in southern Bangladesh.
UN Refugee Agency’s representative in Bangladesh Johannes van der Klaauw told reporters in Geneva via video-link from Dhaka that we have never seen such devastation before in these camps. “It is devastating,” he added.
“We have so far confirmed 15 people dead, 560 injured, 400 are still missing and at least 10,000 shelters have been destroyed. That means at least 45,000 people are being displaced.”
The blaze at Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar district erupted in the late afternoon on Monday and spread quickly through at least four blocks, according to Mohammad Shamsud Douza, additional commissioner of the government’s Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC).
The government’s refugee office and police, however, had yet to confirm any deaths.
Nearly one million Muslim minority from Myanmar — many of whom fled a military crackdown in 2017 — live in cramped and squalid conditions at the camps.
It is the third fire to hit the camps in four days.
Officials said the blaze started in one of the 34 camps — which span about 8,000 acres — before spreading to three other camps, with refugees fleeing the shanties with whatever belongings they could carry.
Thick smoke could be seen billowing from blazing shanties in video shared on social media, as hundreds of firefighters and aid workers battled the flames and pulled refugees to safety.
Firefighters brought the blaze under control around midnight, with the Refugees International saying at least 50,000 people fled their shanties as the blaze reduced thousands of shelters made of tarp and bamboo to ashes.
“It was the biggest fire since the influx of Rohingya in August 2017. Some 1,500-2,000 shanties were completely gutted,” Shamsud Douza said.
He said food had been delivered to the displaced refugees and aid workers were trying to provide all necessary humanitarian support.
Police inspector Gazi Salahuddin said the “fire displaced about 50,000 people who took refuge in the homes of their relatives in other camps.”