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Tens of thousands homeless after fire at Bangladesh Rohingya refugee camp

Rohingya refugees stand by remains of Monday's fire at a Rohingya refugee camp in Balukhali, southern Bangladesh, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (AP Photo/ Shafiqur Rahman)
Associated Press Reporter

Rescuers have recovered at least 15 bodies from a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh after a fire that destroyed thousands of shelters.

At least 400 people were still missing and around 560 were injured by the fire, according to Louise Donovan, a spokesperson for the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR).

The UNHCR said around 45,000 people were displaced by the fire, which broke out on Monday afternoon and burned well into the night.

In the aftermath, refugees picked through the burned debris looking for their belongings.

“Yesterday before the fire started, my kids went to study at the Islamic school. I did not see them after they came back. I found two of my older kids but I still can’t find my youngest son,” said one refugee.

At least three of the dead were children and the search for victims is still ongoing, said Nizam Uddin Ahmed, the top government official in Ukhiya, a sub-district of the Cox’s Bazar district where the camp is located.

Bangladesh has sheltered more than a million Rohingya Muslims in crowded refugee camps, the vast majority having fled neighbouring Myanmar in 2017 amid a major crackdown by that country’s military. The UN has said the crackdown had a genocidal intent, a charge Myanmar rejects.

Bangladesh is eager to begin sending the refugees back to Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Several attempts at repatriation under a joint agreement failed because the Rohingya refused to go, fearing more violence in a country that denies them basic rights including citizenship.

The UN’s World Food Programme said up to 87,855 people were affected by Monday’s fire, with many taking refuge in nearby camps, at friends’ shelters, learning centres for children or temporary transit sites.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in a statement said more than 1,000 staff and volunteers worked through the night with firefighters, camp residents and other agencies to rescue people and douse the fire.

It said an estimated 123,000 refugees in the camps were affected by the fire. The differing figures between could not immediately be reconciled.

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