SIX cases of Covid-19 have now been confirmed among Rohingya refugees living in the densely crowded camps at Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh.
The emergence of the first cases, which had been feared for weeks by humanitarian organisations working with the nearly one million refugees, has been described by the senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International, Daniel P. Sullivan, as “the realisation of a nightmare scenario”.
The camps have been in lockdown for weeks in expectation of the spread of the virus. Christian Aid’s Bangladesh Country Director, Pankaj Kumar, said: “This is alarming news, as the disease will no doubt spread rapidly.
“Like much of the world, we are subject to lockdown rules, but this is disrupting the essential humanitarian aid the refugees rely on, leaving the Rohingya further at risk. For a community largely reliant on food, water, health care, and protection, from organisations like Christian Aid . . . this is a grave concern.”
In the crowded camps, refugees live with up to ten people in one room, with limited washing facilities, and have to queue for food, which makes social distancing almost impossible.
Faith-based charities have asked for direct funding from international donors to help their work with the Rohingya refugees, as they say that they are better placed to work with faith leaders to spread information about social distancing, and overcome distrust of doctors and health-care workers.
Save the Children’s health director in the country, Dr Shamim Jahan, said: “There are only an estimated 2000 ventilators in all of Bangladesh, serving a population of 160 million people. In the Rohingya refugee camps — home to nearly a million people — there are no intensive-care beds at this moment.
“Now that the virus has entered the world’s largest refugee settlement, in Cox’s Bazar, we are looking at the very real prospect that thousands of people may die from Covid-19. This pandemic could set Bangladesh back by decades.”
Cases have also emerged elsewhere in some of the world’s largest refugee camps. In South Sudan, where about 190,000 people are still sheltering in camps after fleeing civil war, two cases have been confirmed in a refugee camp outside the capital, Juba.
The Vice-President of South Sudan, Riek Machar, and his wife, Angelina Teny, were both confirmed as having tested positive for the virus this week.