By Vatican News
“One of the key measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is social distancing. But if you live in a refugee camp, you don’t have the luxury of space to do this,” said Immanuel Chayan Biswas, the Communications Officer for Rohingya Response Programme of Caritas Bangladesh, based in Cox’s Bazar.
Four times victims
In refugee camps in Bangladesh, he explained, the Rohingya community face not only the challenge of living in overcrowded and flimsy shelters with up to ten or more people in one room, but they also use communal latrines and water facilities and space where they receive food distributions is limited. They cannot maintain the proper distancing or hygiene measures to provide effective prevention against the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Furthermore, Biswas pointed out, the tragic pandemic taking place is only one of the emergency situations dominating their lives. “Rohingya people living in Bangladeshi refugee camps are victims four times over,” he said.
“They are victims of the violent and traumatic uprooting from their homeland in Myanmar; victims of the health emergencies such as dysentery and pox; victims of the repeated climate emergency they face when cyclones [and monsoons] batter Bangladesh. And now they are also victims of the global pandemic which is bearing down on Bangladesh.”
More than one million Rohingya in Bangladesh
There are an estimated 1.1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Most of them fled neighbouring Myanmar after August 2017, in the wake of a brutal military onslaught in Myanmar’s Rakhine state against a series of rebel attacks.
The Rohingya, who are mostly Muslims, have long faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, including being denied citizenship since 1982.
The first case of COVID-19 was found in the Rohingya camps on May 14. There are currently at least 46 confirmed cases and 5 deaths from the virus, but as testing capacity is limited, the actual number is likely to be much higher.
Inadequate hygiene, healthcare, awareness
Biswas of Caritas Bangladesh said that the medical facilities in the camp are inadequate considering the size of the population. Only only primary health care facilities are available in most cases. Earlier, the Rohingya critically ill with COVID-19 could have access to Ukhiya General Hospital or Cox’s Bazar Medical College. Now, these treatment facilities are open only to local Bangladeshis.
Biswas lamented that far too few people have the proper information about COVID-19. Caritas Bangladesh is working across the country and in Cox’s Bazaar camps to provide prevention messages to tens of thousands of people, as well as soap and hygiene kits to thousands of families. They have also installed handwashing stations in public places and near toilets.
Poor water supply and sanitation facilities in camps pose big challenges to frequent washing of hands.
With the onset of monsoon rains, there is a big danger of landslides and floods overwhelming the shelters. Deterioration of camp roads and pathways greatly limit access to services and amplify protection issues with concerns such as physical and sexual abuse.
“The international community,” Biswas said, “must pay attention to the Rohingya community’s plight… They must have their rights to live in dignity.”
As the Covid-19 “hits these vulnerable people, we must work on all levels to ensure there is an end in sight to their suffering,” he added.