A huge blaze that ripped through a sprawling Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh has forced at least 50,000 people to flee and left seven people feared dead, officials and aid workers said, in the biggest fire to hit the shanty settlement to date.
Nearly one million of the persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar — many of whom fled a military crackdown in their homeland in 2017 — live in cramped and squalid conditions at the camps in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district.
Officials said the latest blaze appeared to have started on Monday in one of the 34 camps — which span about 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of land — before spreading to three other camps, with refugees fleeing the shanties with whatever belongings they could carry.
Firefighters brought the blaze under control around midnight, with the Refugees International saying at least 50,000 people fled their shanties as the blaze reduced thousands of shelters made of tarp and bamboo to ashes.
The government’s refugee office and police, however, had yet to confirm any deaths.
Douza said food had been delivered to the displaced refugees and aid workers were trying provide all necessary humanitarian support.
– ‘People ran for their lives’ –
Mohammad Yasin, a Rohingya helping with the firefighting, told AFP the blaze raged for more than 10 hours and was the worst he had seen since 2017.
A volunteer for the Save the Children organisation, Tayeba Begum, said “children were running, crying for their families”.
“Many children are missing, and some were unable to flee because of barbed-wire set up in the camps,” it said in a statement.
It was the third blaze to hit the camps in four days, fire brigade official Sikder, who only goes by one name, told AFP.
Sikder said the cause of the fires was not yet known.
Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, Saad Hammadi, tweeted that the “frequency of fire in the camps is too coincidental, especially when outcomes of previous investigations into the incidents are not known and they keep repeating”.
So far, 13,000 Rohingya have been moved to the flood-prone island, which critics say is also in the path of deadly cyclones.