Infections at Rohingya camp a cause for concern - GulfToday

Infections at Rohingya camp a cause for concern


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

The first confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in a vast and overcrowded Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh are a matter of huge concern and need to be addressed promptly.

Additional measures should be swiftly put in place to prevent the disease from spreading.

There have long been warnings the virus could race like wildfire through the cramped, sometimes sewage-soaked alleys of the network of 34 camps in southeast Bangladesh.

In Geneva, UN refugee agency spokesperson Andrej Mahecic relayed government confirmation that one Rohingya refugee had tested positive for the new coronavirus, in the Kutapalong settlement in Cox’s Bazar, along with an individual from the local Bangladeshi host community.

August marks three years since the mainly ethnic Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar fled violent persecution in neighbouring Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Last year, 16,000 people were affected in a single 24-hour period during one of the heaviest downpours.

As UN officials point out, lockdowns and restrictions in movement are affecting livelihoods of millions across Bangladesh, especially daily wage earners like rickshaw drivers, day labourers who now find themselves unable to meet their basic needs.

According to Mahbubur Rahman, the chief health official in the local Cox’s Bazar district, news of the infections has already sparked “panic” in the camps.

In early April authorities had locked down Cox’s Bazar -- home to 3.4 million people including the refugees -- after a number of COVID-19 cases.

Bangladesh restricted traffic in and out of the camps and forced aid organisations to slash manpower by 80 per cent.

The country of 168 million people is under lockdown and has seen a rise in coronavirus cases in recent days, with almost 19,000 and 300 deaths as of Thursday.

Organisations and individuals have already rung the alarm bell.

Senior US official Sam Brownback, who has visited the refugees said it was inevitable the virus would reach the “incredibly crowded” camps and spread “very rapidly”.

Daniel Sullivan from Refugees International has called it the “realisation of a nightmare scenario”.

Shamim Jahan at Save the Children said there was the “very real prospect that thousands of people may die”, with “no intensive care beds” in the camps.

The plight of the refugees has been endless.

It may be recalled that more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes. United Nations investigators have said 10,000 people may have been killed.

Myanmar government faces genocide charges at the UN’s top court.

An Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar had also made it clear in a report wrapping up two years of documentation of human rights violations by security forces that counterinsurgency operations against Rohingya in 2017 included genocidal acts.

Not only have the Rohingya faced horrific violence at the hands of Myanmar security forces with no accountability, but they have also been subjected to decades-long systematic discrimination in Myanmar.

With little prospect of being able to return to Myanmar — where army operations persist in Rakhine state — many of the refugees have in desperation tried to escape in rickety vessels.

Last month around 60 died in a boat stranded at sea for two months after being denied entry by two other countries because of coronavirus restrictions.

Although the arrival of the pandemic has largely been expected, it adds further pressure on extremely vulnerable individuals preparing for the approaching monsoon season.

Related articles