Is a coronavirus catastrophe looming for Rohingya refugees? | The Stream

Frequent handwashing and physical distancing are the pillars of efforts around the world to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in southern Bangladesh who are now directly threatened by COVID-19, effectively practicing 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 United Nations and Bangladesh government officials on May 14. An estimated one million stateless Rohingya Muslim 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 Rohingya Muslims 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 Rohingya Muslims. International NGOs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are in a race against time to quell coronavirus within the sprawling refugee camps.

But their efforts are being made more difficult by the impact of 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 a government-imposed internet blackout within the camps.

On this episode of The Stream we’ll look at what’s needed to stop a coronavirus outbreak in Cox’s Bazar from becoming a calamity for Rohingya refugees.

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