15 dead, 400 missing in fire at Rohingya camp in Bangladesh, says UN

WION Web Team
Geneva, Switzerland Published: Mar 23, 2021, 05:20 PM(IST)

Smoke billows at the site of the Rohingya refugee camp where fire broke out in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh Photograph:( Reuters )

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The UN's International Organization for Migration said it has pledged $1 million to relief efforts but a further $20 million would be required to react to the most urgent needs

Fifteen people have so far been confirmed dead and 400 are still missing in a huge blaze at the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, the United Nations said Tuesday.

"What we have seen in this fire is something we have never seen before in these camps. It is massive. It is devastating," Johannes van der Klaauw, the UN Refugee Agency's representative in Bangladesh, told reporters in Geneva via video-link from Dhaka.

Bangladeshi officials are investigating the cause of the blaze even as officials, aid workers and families sift through the debris looking for further victims. The fire ripped through the Balukhali camp near the southeastern town of Cox's Bazar late on Monday, burning through thousands of shanties as people scrambled to save their meagre possessions.

Sanjeev Kafley, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies's delegation head in Bangladesh, said more than 17,000 shelters had been destroyed and tens of thousands of people displaced.

More than a thousand Red Cross staff and volunteers worked with fire services to extinguish the blaze, spread over four sections of the camp containing roughly 124,000 people, he said. That represents around one-tenth of an estimated 1 million Rohingya refugees in the area, Kafley said.

The UN's International Organization for Migration said it has pledged $1 million to relief efforts but a further $20 million would be required to react to the most urgent needs.

IOM spokeswoman Angela Wells said the fire had caused "catastrophic damage", and the health clinic run by the IOM, the camp's largest, was completely destroyed.

"The fire has since subsided, but not before consuming essential facilities in the camps, shelters and the personal belongings of tens of thousands of refugees. The cause of the fire is still unknown as are the exact number of casualties," she said.

Wells said the first responders were Rohingya volunteers who helped people to safety, supporting the fire response efforts and helping the relief efforts. 

IOM teams worked through the night to help those who fled the scene.

"Today, families have begun to return to their plots of land," Wells told reporters.

"IOM is distributing emergency assistance to all those affected. This assistance includes shelter kits that will allow people to begin to rebuild their homes, as well as emergency items such as blankets, solar lights, mosquito nets, and jerry cans. 

"With the start of the monsoon looming, rebuilding is critical. IOM will continue to help people reconstruct durable shelters, emergency latrines and the vital health facility."

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