Fire destroys the homes of thousands of people in Rohingya refugee camps

(Reuters) – A major fire ripped through Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh in the early hours of Thursday, the United Nations said, destroying homes belonging to thousands of people. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that more than 550 shelters housing some 3,500 people were totally or partially destroyed by the fire, as well as 150 stores and a facility belonging to a non-profit organization. Photographs and video provided to Reuters by a Rohingya refugee in Nayapara camp showed families, including children, sifting through sheets of charred corrugated iron to see if they could salvage anything from their still-smoking homes. But little was left of the camp, which had stood for decades, other than concrete posts and the bark of some trees. “Block E is completely burned,” said refugee Mohammed Arakani. “There is nothing left. Nothing was saved. Everything is burned.” “Everyone is crying,” he said. “They lost all their belongings. They lost everything, they were completely burned, they lost all their property.” UNHCR said it was providing shelter, materials, winter clothing, hot meals and medical care to refugees displaced by the calamity at the camp in Cox’s Bazar district, a strip of land bordering Myanmar in southeastern Bangladesh. “Security experts are in contact with authorities to investigate the cause of the fire,” the agency said, adding that no casualties were reported. Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladeshi government official in charge of the refugees, said the fire service spent two hours putting out the fire, but was hampered by the explosion of gas cylinders inside the houses. He said that no decision had been made on whether the shelters would be rebuilt or whether the refugees would move elsewhere. The Bangladeshi government has relocated several thousand Rohingya to a remote island in recent weeks, despite protests from human rights groups saying some of the relocations were forced, accusations denied by authorities. More than a million Rohingya live in camps on the mainland in southern Bangladesh, the vast majority fleeing Myanmar in 2017 in a military-led offensive that the UN said was carried out with genocidal intent, allegations Myanmar denies. The fire destroyed part of a camp inhabited by Rohingya who fled Myanmar after a previous military campaign, according to the refugees.

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