GENEVA - A huge relief operation is under way to support tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees affected by a massive blaze last week in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
An estimated 48,000 Rohingya lost their shelters in the fire that ripped through parts of Kutupalong-Balukhali, the world's largest refugee camp. The camp houses some 600,000 Rohingya refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar in August 2017.
The U.N. refugee agency reports the Rohingya are being sheltered temporarily on site with family and friends while housing and other vital infrastructure, including hospitals, learning centers and aid distribution points, are being rehabilitated.
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says his agency and partners are distributing thousands of relief items to the refugees, and mobile medical teams are helping those in need of first aid. He says more than 4,000 refugees affected by the fire are being treated for psychological distress.
"Our teams on the ground are monitoring the safety and security of refugees. We are also working to address the critical needs of separated children," Mahecic said. "Since the fire, together with our partners, we have identified more than 600 separated girls and boys who have now been reunited with their families. Our partners are also establishing two child protection helplines and four unification help desks."
He says the Bangladeshi government has established a high-level committee to investigate the cause of the blaze. Eleven deaths have been confirmed, but Mahecic notes more than 300 people are missing.
In addition to the aid from the U.N. agency, hundreds of volunteers have been helping refugees affected by the fire.
"Last week, they were among the first responders in the collective efforts to extinguish the fire," Mahecic said of the volunteers. "Since then, they have been helping other refugees, older children, pregnant women to find safe shelters, escorting people to health care facilities, cleaning the debris, identifying and referring refugees with specific needs to the relevant services."
The UNHCR is appealing for $5.9 million in international support to deal with the aftermath of the fire. That amount is only a small portion of the $294.5 million it needs to implement its humanitarian operation in Bangladesh this year. To date, only 20 percent of that amount is funded.