Several dead as fire guts Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh

Several dead as fire guts Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh

Some witnesses said barbed wire fencing around the camp trapped many people

A huge fire swept through a Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Monday as officials began investigating the cause of a massive fire that left several dead at a Rohingya refugee camp.

The fire has destroyed thousands of homes in the worst blaze to hit the settlement in recent years. Officials sifted through the debris looking for more victims on Tuesday.

According to the officials five people are feared dead and at least 20,000 Rohingya have fled in the third fire to hit the settlements in four days.

The fire ripped through the Balukhali camp near the southeastern town of Cox's Bazar late on Monday, burning through hundreds of homes as people raced to recover their meagre possessions, according to Reuters.

Police have so far confirmed only two deaths after recovering the bodies. Rohingya witnesses, however, said several people had died in the blaze that has left tens of thousands with no shelter.

Some witnesses said barbed wire fencing around the camp trapped many people, causing some of the casualties and leading international humanitarian agencies to call for its removal.

Nearly one million of the Muslim minority from Myanmar -- many of whom fled a military crackdown in their homeland in 2017 -- live in cramped and squalid conditions at the camps in the Cox's Bazar district.

“The cause of the fire is still unknown,” said Zakir Hossain Khan, a senior police official. “Authorities are investigating to determine the cause of the fire.”

Humanitarian organization Refugees International estimated 50,000 people had been displaced - in already crowded camps that house more than one million Rohingya refugees - and the extent of the damage may not be known for some time.

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“Many children are missing, and some were unable to flee because of barbed wire set up in the camps,” it said in a statement.

John Quinley, of Fortify Rights, a rights organization working in the area, said he had heard similar reports, adding the fences had hampered the distribution of humanitarian aid and vital services at the camps in the past.

“The government must remove the fences and protect refugees,” Quinley said in a statement. “There have now been a number of large fires in the camps including a large fire in January this year...The authorities must do a proper investigation into the cause of the fires.”

The vast majority of the people in the camps fled Myanmar in 2017 amid a military-led crackdown on the Rohingya that UN investigators said was executed with “genocidal intent”, charges Myanmar denies.

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