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The fire destroyed hundreds of shelters in the Rohingya refugee camp

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Smoke rises after a fire at the Rohingya refugee camp in Balukhali, southern Bangladesh, on Monday, March 22, 2021. The fire destroyed hundreds of shelters and left thousands homeless, officials and witnesses said. (Photo AP / Shafiqur Rahman)

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) A devastating fire broke out Monday through a large Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, destroying hundreds of shelters and leaving thousands homeless, officials and witnesses said.

The fire at Balukhali camp in Cox Bazar district erupted in the late afternoon and quickly spread through at least four blocks, said Mohammad Shamsud Douza, the government’s additional commissioner for the Refugee, Aid and Repatriation Commission. He said at least four fire brigades were fighting to control the blaze because of its rapid spread.

Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said in an email that fire services, rescue and response teams and volunteers were at the scene.

So far the fire has affected shelters, health centers, distribution points and other facilities. Volunteers are supporting those affected, she said.

No casualties were reported immediately, but there were fears of death and injury. No details on the missing could be confirmed. Two Rohingya refugees told the Associated Press on stage that the fire had spread very quickly and continued to rage overnight on Monday.

Some videos posted on social media showed clouds of smoke coming out of the camp.

Bangladesh has sheltered more than one million Rohingya Muslims, the vast majority fleeing Myanmar in 2017 in a major blow from the Myanmar military. The UN has said the coup had a genocidal intent, a charge Myanmar denies.

Bangladesh has hosted refugees in crowded refugee camps and is eager to start sending them back to Myanmar with a Buddhist majority. Several repatriation efforts under a joint agreement failed because Rohingya refused to go, fearing more violence in a country that denies them basic rights including citizenship.

In January, another fire destroyed hundreds of canoe-like homes in the camp, leaving thousands homeless.

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