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Hundreds Missing In Aftermath Of Fire At Rohingya Refugee Camp

Rohingya refugees search for their belongings after a massive fire broke out at the Balukhali refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Monday.
Yousuf Tushar
LightRocket via Getty Images
Rohingya refugees search for their belongings after a massive fire broke out at the Balukhali refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Monday.

In Bangladesh, rescuers sifting through the rubble from a massive fire at a refugee camp recovered the remains of nearly a dozen people – but hundreds are still missing, according to officials.

Tens of thousands more have been left homeless by Monday's blaze at the Balukhali camp in Cox's Bazar in southern Bangladesh that houses Rohingya Muslims who have fled neighboring Myanmar. After it started, the fire caused panic among refugees as it quickly consumed makeshift dwellings and tents.

Of the confirmed dead, at least three were children, Nizam Uddin Ahmed, a top government official in Cox's Bazar district told The Associated Press. The search for more victims was continuing, he said.

Reuters reports that Bangladeshi officials have confirmed at least 11 dead. Some 40,000 huts were burned down, Mohammad Mohsin, Bangladesh's disaster management and relief secretary, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Louise Donovan, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said that at least 400 people were still missing since the fire, and that some 560 had been injured in the blaze. She said an estimated 45,000 people had been displaced.

"Everything has gone. Thousands are without homes," Aman Ullah, a Rohingya from the camp, which houses an estimated 1 million refugees, told Reuters.

Snigdha Chakraborty, the Bangladesh country manager for Catholic Relief Services, said the disaster could have been much worse. "Thankfully the fire happened in the late afternoon and not the middle of the night. People were moving around and children were outside playing, so they could quickly evacuate," she said.

In an emailed statement to NPR, the International Rescue Committee said the fire had also destroyed health clinics, mosques, community centers and an IRC safe space for women.

"Early reports indicate that newly installed barbed wire fencing seriously restricted the ability of refugees to flee the fire, including especially vulnerable women and girls," the IRC said.

That sentiment was echoed by Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who said the tragic event was made worse by "barbed wire fencing" surrounding the camp.

Most of the refugees at the camp arrived after fleeing a 2017 crackdown against them in Myanmar, which is predominately Buddhist. U.N. investigators say some 10,000 people were killed by soldiers in retaliation for an attack on the army by a Rohingya insurgent group.

Overwhelmingly Muslim Bangladesh has housed the Rohingya refugees for years, but has been eager to repatriate them. However, many of the refugees are unwilling to go back, fearing further persecution at the hands of Myanmar's military.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.

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