At least 15 people have been killed in a massive fire that ripped through a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, while at least 400 remain missing, the UN refugee agency says.
“It is massive, it is devastating,” said UNHCR’s Johannes Van der Klaauw, who joined a Geneva briefing virtually from Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Tuesday.
“We still have 400 people unaccounted for, maybe somewhere in the rubble,” he said.
He said the UNHCR had reports of more than 550 people injured and about 45,000 displaced.
Link to our coverage of the UN's response to the massive #RohingyaCampFire:@IOMBangladesh, @UNHCR_BGD, @UNICEFBD and @WFP teams assisting tens of thousands of refugees, after devastating fire rips through camp in #Bangladesh https://t.co/rZjQwtSQjV
— UN News (@UN_News_Centre) March 23, 2021
Bangladeshi officials are investigating the cause of the blaze even as officials, aid workers and families sift through the debris looking for further victims.
The fire ripped through the Balukhali camp near the south-eastern town of Cox’s Bazar late on Monday, burning through thousands of shanties as people scrambled to save their meagre possessions.
“Everything has gone. Thousands are without homes,” Aman Ullah, a Rohingya refugee from the Balukhali camp, told Reuters.
“The fire was brought under control after six hours, but some parts of the camp could be seen smoking all night long.”
Police have so far confirmed seven deaths.
A general view of a Rohingya refugee camp after a fire burned down all the shelters in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 23, 2021. REUTERS pic.twitter.com/wyJ8I2KhJa
— soe zeya tun (@soezeya) March 23, 2021
“The cause of the fire is still unknown” and authorities were investigating the matter, Zakir Hossain Khan, a senior police official told Reuters by telephone from the camps.
Sanjeev Kafley, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’s delegation head in Bangladesh, said more than 17,000 shelters had been destroyed and tens of thousands of people displaced.
More than a thousand Red Cross staff and volunteers worked with fire services to extinguish the blaze, spread over four sections of the camp containing roughly 124,000 people, he said.
That represents about one-tenth of an estimated one million Rohingya refugees in the area, Mr Kafley said.
Some witnesses said that barbed wire fencing around the camp trapped many people, hurting some and leading international humanitarian agencies to call for its removal.
A fire in Bangladesh has devastated Rohingya camps.
Read our reaction:https://t.co/6n20Aj0GAE
— Refugees International (@RefugeesIntl) March 22, 2021
Humanitarian organisation Refugees International, which estimated 50,000 people had been displaced, said the extent of the damage may not be known for some time.
“Many children are missing, and some were unable to flee because of barbed wire set up in the camps,” it said in a statement.
The vast majority of the people in the camps fled Myanmar in 2017 amid a military-led crackdown on the Rohingya that UN investigators said was executed with “genocidal intent”, charges Myanmar denies.