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Bangladesh Rohingya Refugee Camps See First Coronavirus Death, Rampant Infections Feared

Jun 04, 2020

Bangladesh authorities earlier this week, confirmed the first death of a Rohingya refugee from the coronavirus. Infections are rapidly rising in the sprawling camps sheltering more than 1 million Rohingya Muslims who have fled neighboring Myanmar.

The 71-year-old refugee died last Saturday in Cox’s Bazaar, in an isolation centre set up by the government and aid agencies. He had been admitted with COVID-19 symptoms a week earlier.  Samples collected from him tested positive on Monday. Meanwhile, the United Nations Refugee Agency said at least 29 Rohingya refugees have tested positive for the disease.

ABC News reports that roughly 40,000 people live per square kilometre in the camps, and that each shack is hardly 10 square meters. Many are packed with up to 12 residents. With social distancing impossible, aid agencies and government officials fear a widespread outbreak of the virus in the camps could be overwhelming.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said, “…. refugee camps, especially the various camps around Cox’s Bazar, are a very, very high risk area, and that’s why we’re working very quickly to try to contain it.”

Most of the Rohingya in the camps fled Myanmar in late 2017, when Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown on their villages. Myanmar Security forces have been documented as perpetrating mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of homes. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They have no freedom of movement, nor other basic rights, including the right to education.

Meanwhile, recent reports had read that Bangladesh had cut off internet services to the camps, and that the refugees had little to no knowledge of the existence of coronavirus as a result. Those who did come to know about it were afraid that aid workers or visitors to the camps would bring it in to the Rohingya. There is also no access to masks or sanitizers in the camps, nor anywhere near adequate, healthcare.

Latest reports indicate refugees infected with the coronavirus are fleeing quarantine in the camps, out of fear of being transferred to an isolated island in the Bay of Bengal.

Umm Muhammed Umar

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