Published:  01:20 AM, 06 June 2020

Risks and vulnerabilities of Rohingyas during the pandemic

Risks and vulnerabilities of Rohingyas during the pandemic

Over a few days, the number of Covid-19 patents has been at the upward push in Bangladesh. Last 10,000 patents have been diagnosed in seven days referring to the reality that Covid-19 state of affairs starts aggravated with great intensity.

Amid the spread of Covid-19 country wide, though the ration is low outside of Dhaka, one pertinent question is how Rohingya people are doing at the camps and whether there is a risk of infection of the spread of Covid-19 there and if a wide-scale transmission starts what would happen to them who are living a restricted life without adequate food, water and sanitation activities.

Meanwhile, in the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar, several Covid-19 patients have been tested positive. With the identification of these patents, the whole community is under severe threat as they live in congested areas without adequate sanitation and opportunity to maintain social distance.

The movement of development workers has been restricted which prevents them from providing basic services such as health, nutrition, water, food, gas, hygiene, sanitation, waste treatment and so on. This may have put them without food and other basic resources of life in the camps. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 has intensified the miseries of these people as they lack an adequate level of awareness to keep them safe from getting infected.

In recent months, we have learnt from different media outlets that Rohingya people have been moving in different parts of the country coming out of the camps. They continue their efforts to collect passports from various passport offices across the country. Many of them were captured red-handed when they applied for passports. Many of them were caught by the law enforcing authorities while they were searching for work.

These incidents indicate that many Rohingya people have managed to get spread throughout the country. If they returned to the camps before or within lockdown, they not only infect their family members with Covid-19 but infect other camp members.

The identified Covid-19 patents in the camps have exhume done reality which indicates that these people do not remain confined to the Rohingya camps only. Unless they come out from the camps they might not have been infected by the Covid-19 as entry into the camps is prohibited for others. Through the identification of these patients, it has been realized that the security of the camps is not as strong as it ought to be.

Now a pertinent question is: what would happen in the camps when many patients would be tested positive with Covid-19? This could severely affect the people living in camps in many ways.These people do not practice safer sanitation and frequent hand washing. It is very difficult to maintain social distance in a congested area, such as Rohingya camps, where many people live in a small hut.

Even they are required to share common toilets and water sources. There is not enough space to maintain 3-foot distance from each other when they go for using toilets or collecting waters. Therefore, they are the most vulnerable group to Covid-19 infection now.

We all should bear in mind that once more people will be infected within the camps; the infection would not just remain in camps. Considering the relaxed security in the camps,Rohingyas may come out from the camps to increase the risk of infection spreading in local communities. If the intensity of humanitarian assistance deduces in the camps, the people who have no income will strive to come out from the camps to earn money.

They would not stay to starve in the camps. The law enforcing officials would find it difficult to monitor their activities once they start coming out of the camps. Even, they may get involved in clashes with local communities as they often have to spend time with difficulty during the lockdown without a commitment of adequate government assistance.The entire surroundings next to the camps and various locations in the Cox's Bazar district may, therefore, become chaotic.

Another problem the government may have faced that is to provide medical treatments if more patients are tested positive from the Rohingyas. While they are guaranteed access to medical treatments in Cox's Bazar if they require, no guideline has yet been prepared to direct how they should be able to receive medical services and in what ways. Some patients may be required transportation to reach to hospitals in case of emergency. In this respect, there is hardly any indication of how they would be transported.

On the other hand, it would not be possible to ensure the home quarantine of a large number of patients with Covid-19 as it requires sufficient infrastructure to keep someone in isolation within the camps. Therefore, if anyone with Covid-19 infection continues to stay with their family members, they would infect them, who would infect others. Therefore, the cyclical process would be continued.

The government has mobilized elderly members of the Rohingya community to transmit the messagerelating to the practice of basic hygiene among the people in the camps to prevent the virus from spreading there.

In view of the Rohingya's educational qualification, language and inabilities to maintain social distance and practice safe sanitation behaviour, would it be wise to depend on these people? It is a serious issue that needs to be considered with great intensity. Therefore, the government should allow the movement of the development workers, though in limited scales, to deliver the messages to them.

They have an added advantage as most of the development organizations have recruited people who can speak and understand the Rohingya language. They could motivate them to keep distance and practice safer hygiene to reduce the risk of spreading the infection of Covid-19. They could also be allowed to distribute more humanitarian aids to keep these people stay in the camps.

Therefore, it is a matter of great concern for the government to make sure that Covid-19 does not spread in the Rohingya camps with great intensity. The government continues to struggle to deal with the Covid-19 in different ways because they have found it quite difficult to enforce complete lockdown and ensure social distancing access the country that has accelerated the spread of Covid-19 in an alarming rate.

This is mostly due to the negligence of the citizens. Meanwhile, cyclone Amphan posed a serious challenge to the government by impacting 26 districts of the country. Thousands lost their homes. Electricity lines were destroyed compelling more than 10 million consumers to live without electricity for a few days.

Many dams were damaged causing the over flowing of salt water in the main land that could have a major effect on shrimp cultivation. The government is now faced with great difficulty by this devastation as it requires more money to accelerate the rebuilding process in damaged areas of Amphan.

Along with these challenges, if Covid-19 infection gets aggravated in Rohingya camps that would pose another challenge to the government. In that case, the government will find them in a tricky situation. Therefore, in order to contain the spread of Covid-19 infection in the camps the adequate supply of different materials such as soap, hand sanitizers, and mask need to be ensured.

Even, more awareness-building programs have to be implemented to help them realize Covid-19 adversities. They should also be provided with adequate supports to help maintain their livelihood to keep them restricted within the camps so that the transmission of Covid-19 can be minimized there. Otherwise, we will have to witness another cataclysm in the country.

The write is a Professor of Public Administration and an Additional Director of the Institutional Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) at the University of Rajshahi

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