A fire has swept through Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh, destroying homes belonging to thousands of people, according to the United Nations.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said more than 550 shelters – which house at least 3,500 people – were totally or partially destroyed in Thursday’s blaze, along with 150 stores and a facility belonging to a non-profit organisation.
Photographs and videos provided to Reuters news agency by a Rohingya refugee in Nayapara camp showed families, including children, sifting through charred corrugated iron to see if they could retrieve anything of their burning houses.
But not much was left of the camp, which had stood for decades, except concrete poles and the pods of a few trees.
“E-block is completely set on fire,” said refugee Mohammed Arakani. “There is nothing left. There was nothing saved. Everything is burnt.
“Everyone is crying,” he added. “They lost all their belongings. They lost everything… all their possessions.
UNHCR said it was providing shelter, equipment, winter clothing, hot meals and medical care to refugees displaced by the calamity in the camp in Cox’s Bazar district, a strip of land bordering Myanmar in south-eastern Bangladesh.
“Security experts are liaising with authorities to investigate the cause of the fire,” the agency said, adding that no casualties had been reported.
Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the Bangladeshi government’s deputy refugee official, said firefighters spent two hours putting out the blaze but were hampered by the explosion of gas cylinders inside the houses.
He said no decision had been made on whether the shelters would be rebuilt or whether the refugees would be moved elsewhere.
The Bangladeshi government has displaced several thousand Rohingya to an isolated island in recent weeks, despite protests from human rights groups that some of the relocations have been forced, claims denied by authorities.
Over a million Rohingya live in mainland camps in southern Bangladesh, the vast majority having fled Myanmar in 2017 in a military crackdown which the UN says was carried out with genocidal intent – accusations which Myanmar denies.
The fire destroyed part of a camp inhabited by Rohingya who fled Myanmar after an earlier military campaign, according to the refugees.
In a statement, the NGO Save the Children said the fire was “another devastating blow to the Rohingya who endured untold hardship for years.”
“Today’s devastating fire will have deprived many families of the little shelter and dignity they have left. This is another gruesome reminder that children trapped in Cox’s Bazar camps face a grim future with little freedom of movement, insufficient access to education, poverty, severe protection risks and abuse, including child marriage, ”National Director of Save the Children Bangladesh Onno said van Manen.
The NGO said that the international community must find “a lasting and lasting solution to the fate of the Rohingya”.
“In addition, the international community must fully fund the humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis, which is unfortunately underfunded. Without adequate funding, vital services essential for the Rohingya will suffer, ”he said.