The Stream

Is a coronavirus catastrophe looming for Rohingya refugees?

Aid organisations face battle to prevent widespread infection in Bangladesh camps affected by Cyclone Amphan.

On Wednesday, 27 May at 19:30 GMT:
Frequent handwashing and physical distancing are the pillars of efforts around the world to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. But for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh who are now directly threatened by COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, effectively practising that advice is nigh on impossible, especially after Cyclone Amphan left the camps in Cox’s Bazar a quagmire. Health and human rights officials are warning of a viral outbreak that will harm some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The first case of coronavirus in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar was announced by the United Nations and Bangladesh government officials on May 14. An estimated one million stateless Rohingya refugees are living in close quarters in a network of 34 camps, having fled neighbouring Myanmar from a military crackdown that began in 2016. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has ordered Myanmar to protect the Muslim-majority Rohingya against violence and preserve evidence of possible genocide. Myanmar submitted a report to the ICJ on Saturday, outlining the steps it has taken to stop genocide against the Rohingya.

International NGOs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are in a race against time to quell the coronavirus within the sprawling refugee camps. But their efforts are being made more difficult by the heavy rain from Cyclone Amphan. Even before the storm, doctors and aid workers said their efforts were being challenged by Bangladesh’s country-wide lockdown order, which cut the manpower of aid groups by 80 percent. Getting public health advice to refugees is also being hampered by government-imposed internet and phone restrictions within the camps. 

We will look at what is needed to stop a coronavirus outbreak in Cox’s Bazar from becoming a calamity for Rohingya refugees. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Tun Khin, @tunkhin80
President, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK 

Louise Donovan, @LouiseDonovan16
Spokesperson, UNHCR 

Delwar Hossain
Director-General of Myanmar Wing, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Mohammed Jamjoom, @MIJamjoom
Senior Correspondent, Al Jazeera English

Read more:
Rohingya crisis through the eyes of Al Jazeera’s journalists – Al Jazeera
Rohingya justice: Why the ICJ’s public rebuke of Myanmar matters – Al Jazeera