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Massive fire tears through a crowded Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees look on after a major fire in their Balukhali camp at Ukhiya in Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh, Sunday, March 5, 2023.
Mahmud Hossain Opu
Rohingya refugees look on after a major fire in their Balukhali camp at Ukhiya in Cox's Bazar district, Bangladesh, Sunday, March 5, 2023.

A large firetore through southern Bangladesh Sunday night and left 12,000 displaced Rohingya refugees homeless.

The refugee camp in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh, is one of the largest in the world, and the fire has caused considerable damage. Nearly 2,000 shelters were destroyed along with mosques, schools and health centers.

How the fire started is unknown, and there were no casualties reported. Police are investigating if the fire was an act of sabotage.

Over several years, more than a million Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape anti-Muslim violence in a majority-Buddhist Myanmar. There Rohingyas are denied citizenship and other rights.

Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep spoke with UNICEF's Ezatullah Majeed who's in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, about the additional struggles that Rohingya refugees face after the fire.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview highlights

On the aftermath of the camp fire

Cox's Bazar is hosting a million refugees in 33 camps. Yesterday at 2:30 p.m., a fire started in Camp 11 and quickly spread to the neighboring camps. Authorities and the fire brigades did their best to control the fire, and around 6 p.m., the fire had become under control. These three camps host 100,000 refugees and 50% of them are children under the age of 18.

We are estimating that 12,000 refugees are badly affected, which is, again, half of them. 6000 or more than 6000 of them are children. 2000 shelters are burned completely. In addition to these shelters, there are service points that UNICEF is also providing support there. The learning centers or the schools, 22 of them completely burned and damaged, destroyed, while six of them are partially damaged. We also support the nutrition program and the child protection programs.

On the continued struggle Rohingya refugees face

These refugees are 100% dependent on the international aid. Fortunately, with the support of the international community, different agencies are on the ground. Some agencies they provide based on their mandate, food, water or education. So the situation was already very bad in the very congested camps these people were living, and their standard of life was really low and it was so difficult for them. Now with this fire, these Rohingya for the second time they become homeless and nothing left for them. They lost all their properties and they need to start from zero.

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Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.