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Fire Sweeps Through Rohingya Refugee Camp In Southern Bangladesh

A landscape view seen in the Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar, taken two years ago. A massive fire has swept through the camp, destroying hundreds of dwellings.
Kazi Salahuddin Razu
NurPhoto via Getty Images
A landscape view seen in the Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar, taken two years ago. A massive fire has swept through the camp, destroying hundreds of dwellings.

A massive fire broke out at a camp in Bangladesh housing Rohingya Muslim refugees from neighboring Myanmar on Monday, reportedly destroying hundreds of ramshackle dwellings.

The fire in Cox's Bazar in southern Bangladesh spread rapidly, engulfing tents and poorly constructed homes and buildings, according to witnesses quoted by the Anadolu Agency, Turkey's state-run media.

"Fire services, rescue and response teams and volunteers are at the scene to try to control the fire and prevent it spreading further," Louise Donovan, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Cox's Bazar told Reuters, which quoted witnesses saying several people had also been killed in the fire.

Bangladesh's senior refugee official told The Associated Press that firefighters had been dispatched to the camp, known as Balukhali.

Muhammad Ayyub, a Rohingya representative, told Anadolu that a 19-year-old woman and two children, ages six and nine, had been killed and that several others were missing. However, The Associated Press said no deaths were immediately reported.

The fire is the second big blaze to hit a refugee camp in Bangladesh so far this year. The last major fire erupted in January, destroying hundreds of homes in Nayapara camp.

"It is another devastating blow to the Rohingya refugees who live here. Just a couple of days ago we lost one of our health facilities in another fire," said Onno Van Manen, country director for Save the Children in Bangladesh.

Tayeba Begum, a volunteer for Save the Children who witnessed the fire, said it "spread so quickly that before we understood what happened, it caught our house.

"People were screaming and running here and there. Children were also running scattered, crying for their family," Begum said, according to the aid group.

More than a million refugees live in camps in Cox's Bazar district. Most of them fled a brutal 2017 army crackdown in Myanmar against the country's minority Rohingya that U.N. investigators have said was carried out with "genocidal intent." Myanmar denies that charge.

The U.N. estimates that at least 10,000 Rohingya were killed by Myanmar's state forces, but others put the figure higher.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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