DHAKA (Reuters) – A large fire engulfed the Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh on Monday, destroying thousands of homes, officials and witnesses said.
Video shot by a resident showed a blazing blaze at the Balukhali camp in Coxs Bazar, with people struggling to reclaim their possessions between burnt huts and tents.
Fire services, rescue and response teams and volunteers are at the scene to try to control the fire and prevent it from spreading further, said Louise Donovan, spokeswoman for the UNHCR UN refugee agency in Coxs Bazar, where refugees live in deep huts.
Rohingya refugees in the camps said many homes were burned and some people had died, but neither authorities nor UNHCR confirmed there were any deaths.
With more than one million Rohingya living in mainland camps in southern Bangladesh, the vast majority fled Myanmar in 2017 from an army-led coup that UN investigators said was executed for genocide, a charge Myanmar denies.
The fire spread so fast that before we knew what had happened, it took over our house. People were screaming and running here and there. The children also ran … crying for their family, said Tayeba Begum, a Save the Children volunteer who witnessed the fire.
A Rohingya leader at Coxs Bazar, a plot of land bordering Myanmar in southeast Bangladesh, said he saw some dead bodies.
Thousands of huts have been completely burnt down, Mohammed Nowkhim told Reuters.
Mohammed Shamsud Douza, Bangladesh Deputy Government official in charge of the refugees, said: We are trying to control the flames.
Another large fire broke out in the camp in January, destroying homes but causing no casualties.
The fire risk in densely populated camps is high and Monday fires were still the biggest, said Onno Van Manen, Save the Children Country Director in Bangladesh.
This is another devastating blow to the Rohingya refugees living here. Just a few days ago we lost one of our health facilities in another fire, he said.
UNHCR said humanitarian partners had mobilized hundreds of volunteers from nearby camps for the support operation, as well as vehicles and fire safety equipment.
So far the fire has affected shelters, health centers, distribution points and other facilities, spokesman Donovan said.
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Mike Collett-White
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