Fire rips through world’s largest refugee camp

Some 12,000 people have reportedly been left without shelter after Sunday’s inferno in Bangladesh

Authorities in Bangladesh have opened an investigation into the circumstances which led to an inferno at a Rohingya refugee camp on Sunday that destroyed around 2,000 shelters and left thousands of people homeless.

Local media has reported that one man – who is understood to be a refugee – has been detained in connection with the fire. Police are trying to determine whether or not the blaze was started “as an act of sabotage,” according to Mohammad Mizanur Rahman, the chairman of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief Repatriation Commissioner.

“Some 2,000 shelters have been burnt, leaving about 12,000 forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals shelterless,” Rahman told the AFP.

It is not yet clear how the fire, which occurred at 2:45pm local time on Sunday, began but it is thought to have spread quickly through tarpaulin shelters and by gas cylinders in kitchens. No casualties have yet been reported in the fire, which was brought under control after three hours.

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The refugee camp in the country’s southeast is considered to be the largest of its kind. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) tweeted on Sunday that 90 facilities, including hospitals and learning centers, had been destroyed in the fire. Around 35 mosques were also reported to have been damaged or destroyed.

Bangladesh authorities are working with domestic and international aid groups to supply food and temporary shelter to those affected by the blaze.

“Today’s massive fire will have robbed many families of their safety and what little belongings they have left,” the humanitarian organization ‘Save the Children’ stated on Sunday. “They continue to grapple with inadequate education, concerning levels of malnutrition, stunting, child marriage, and child labor.”

Rohingya refugee camps were affected by 222 fires between January 2021 and December 2022, according to data released by the country’s defense ministry last month. This included 60 cases of arson. In March 2021, at least 15 people died in a fire at the settlement.

The camp offers temporary housing to Rohingya people who fled Myanmar in the wake of a crackdown against the Muslim ethnic minority in the country in 2017.

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