COX’S BAZAR: Fire tore through a Rohingya refugee camp on Thursday, destroying more than 550 shanty homes, but while 3,500 people were left homeless there were no serious casualties.

The blaze started when most people in the sprawling Nayapara camp were asleep. Tens of thousands of members of the Muslim minority who fled a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017 live in the overcrowded camp.

International aid agencies said in a joint statement the “devastating” fire took two hours to bring under control.

“Very fortunately, no deaths or serious injuries have been reported, and the few people with minor injuries have been released after initial treatment,” the Inter-Sector Coordination Group added.

The agencies estimated that some 3,500 people had been left homeless after more than 550 of the tin and bamboo shelters were destroyed along with a community centre and several shops.

The fire started around 2am and was suspected to have been caused by a cooking cylinder, according to Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner Rezwan Hayat, who said 10 people had suffered injuries.

Residents quoted by aid workers said huge flames quickly engulfed the shanties.

“We have immediately supplied hot food and bamboo and tarpaulins to the affected people to reconstruct their homes,” Hayat said.

Nayapara is one of a string of camps in Cox’s Bazar district of south-eastern Bangladesh where more than 900,000 Rohingya now live. About 700,000 fled across the border in 2017 after the Myanmar crackdown that the United Nations has said could be genocide.

Save the Children’s Bangladesh director Onno van Manen said the fire was “another devastating blow for the Rohingya people who have endured unspeakable hardship for years”.

He called it “another ghastly reminder” that children in the camps “face a bleak future with little freedom of movement, inadequate access to education, poverty, serious protection risks and abuse including child marriage”.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2021

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