Fire destroys hundreds of homes in Rohingya refugee camp
The fire started in Nayapara Camp, in Cox's Bazar district, in the early hours of Thursday morning, destroying over 550 homes, 150 shops and forcing around 3,500 people to flee the blaze. No casualties have been reported.
"There is nothing left. There was nothing saved. Everything is burned down,” refugee Mohammed Arakani told Reuters.
"Everyone is crying," he said. "They lost all their belongings. They lost everything, completely burned down, they lost all their goods."
The UNHCR reported that volunteers and refugees attempted to quell the flames before fire fighters arrived. By the time the blaze was under control, hundreds of homes had been reduced to soldering piles of ash and scorched corrugated roofs.
Efforts to put out the fire were hampered by the explosion of gas cylinders that were kept in homes, according to Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees.
The aid organisation said that it was working to provide shelter, materials, winter clothes, hot meals and medical care to those affected by the disaster.
It is not clear what caused the fire, but "security experts are liaising with the authorities to investigate on the cause of fire", said UNHCR.
"This is another devastating blow for the Rohingya people who have endured unspeakable hardship for years… today's devastating fire will have robbed many families of what little shelter and dignity was left to them," said Onno van Manen, Save the Children’s country director in Bangladesh.
Nayapara Camp is home to around 23,000 Rohingya refugees, who fled government violence in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017. A United Nations investigation labelled the violence as ethnic cleansing and accused the government of harbouring "genocidal intent".
Prior to the fire, the Bangladeshi government moved over 1,000 Rohingya refugees to the remote island of Bhasan Char in the Bay of Bengal.
Read more: The Rohingya crisis and Myanmar's dark road to democracy
Rights groups have accused the Bangladeshi government of moving the refugees against their will, while the UN has said that it has not been able to carry out a technical and safety assessment of the island, which is prone to flooding.
"Allegations from within the community about cash incentives being offered to Rohingya families to relocate to Bhashan Char as well as use of intimidation tactics are making the relocation process questionable," said Amnesty International's South Asia campaigner Saad Hammadi.
Douza denied claims that the relocations were forced, saying,"they will not be sent against their will".