03/06/2023, 00.00
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Cox's Bazar blaze displaces 12,000 Rohingya

At least 2,000 homes have been destroyed in what is considered the largest refugee camp in the world. Learning centres, schools and hospitals have also been razed to the ground. For experts, the main problem is relocating the refugees. For the UN, deaths by sea of those fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh are also on the increase.

Cox's Bazar (AsiaNews/Agencies) - At least 12,000 people have been displaced after a major fire ravaged the Cox's Bazar refugee camp, one of the largest in the world where about one million people, mostly Rohingya, reside.

The Bangladeshi authorities are investigating the cause of the explosion. The flames, which yesterday razed to the ground about 2,000 tents and lodgings built of bamboo, spread after some gas cylinders broke, local officials explained. The police are investigating whether it could have been deliberate tampering.

The fire started around 2.45pm (local time) yesterday, explained Bangladesh Refugee Commissioner Mijanur Rahman. The fire was put out in about three hours, he added, but in the meantime it has destroyed at least 35 mosques and 21 learning centres for refugees and, according to the UN Refugee Agency, also some hospitals. Many evacuees today returned to the site of the devastation rummaging for objects, but from the pictures, it seems only tin roofs remained. "My shelter was gutted. Even my shop was burnt down," Mamun Johar, a 30-year-old Rohingya, told Agence France Press. "The fire took everything away from me, everything."

It is a "serious incident on what was already a chronically very vulnerable and precariously balanced population," Hardin Lang, of the organisation Refugees International, told the BBC.

The difficulties in bringing aid are linked to overcrowding in Cox's Bazar: relocating thousands of people and providing basic services in other parts of the camp (after schools and water facilities were destroyed) will be a challenge for the authorities, experts say. 

The refugee camp has long been considered vulnerable to fires: according to a Bangladesh Ministry of Defence report published last month, 222 fires were recorded in 2021 and 2022, of which 60 were arson attacks. 

The Rohingya minority is of Muslim faith and is mainly concentrated in the Burmese state of Rakhine. Since 2017, due to the violence perpetrated by the army, the Rohingya have taken refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

According to a recent UN report, in 2022 there was an 'alarming' increase in the number of Rohingya refugees who lost their lives at sea trying to escape from Myanmar (where there is an ongoing civil conflict after the coup in February 2021) or Bangladesh, where living conditions have become unbearable.

According to UN spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo, 'at least 348 people died or went missing at sea in 2022, making it one of the deadliest years since 2014'.

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