Coronavirus: Christian Aid calls on governments to invest in immediate response in Cox’s Bazaar as disease reaches Rohingya camps

As two cases of Covid-19 are identified in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, which are home to more than 850,000 Rohingya, Christian Aid is urging governments to take immediate action to protect the already vulnerable population.

In the camp, deemed the largest refugee camp in the world by the United Nations, physical distancing is not possible due to the crowded conditions.  A third of households do not have soap or regular access to water, and access to healthcare is poor, with 29% of households reporting that one or two members of their family already have an illness requiring medical attention. As the disease continues to spread, people will be unable to earn a living, causing widespread hunger and extreme poverty.

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, healthcare and protection from organisations like Christian Aid and its local partners, this is a grave concern.

“Longer-term effects of the outbreak will be devastating, with little to no opportunities for people to earn a living, resulting in hunger and extreme poverty and increases reliance on humanitarian aid.  Women and girls are particularly at risk, with increased domestic violence, child marriage and marriage-related trafficking.

“We are calling on governments and donors, like DfID, to invest in urgent local responses, to ensure that community-based responders, including faith-based organisations, receive direct funds for their work to try and protect the thousands of Rohingya refugees now at serious risk of catching Covid-19.

“Local and national charities and civil society organisations are far better placed to understand local community perspectives, ensure displaced communities are heard and play a part in the decision-making around any assistance provided. 

“Christian Aid is also calling for neighbouring nations to support some 800 Rohingya refugees being held in quarantine off the coast of the Bangladeshi mainland – 300 on the poorly quipped and flood-prone Bhasan Char island and 500 on a ship currently at sea.”

The organisation’s local partners in Cox’s Bazar are continuing to work in the camps, while practising physical distancing and have been able to access personal protection equipment (PPE) from local markets.  Their main focus is to raise awareness of the importance of handwashing and physical distancing – through health and community centres, and use of posters and megaphone announcements throughout the camps – and urging religious and community leaders to pass on these messages through their mosques and community meetings at a safe distance of at least 7ft. This is helping to combat the community’s general mistrust of doctors and healthcare workers.  

Plans are also in place to train 100 extra healthcare staff on infection, prevention and disease control methods and for additional handwashing stations throughout the camps. Hygiene kits that include antiseptic liquid and soap will be distributed to 50,000 people.  Local and international charities are working together to provide an extra 1,900 beds. 

Yesterday, in Christian Aid’s report Tipping Point, which included a case study on the issues facing Rohingya refugees, Gordon Brown said: “As governments around the world struggle to find their way through the crisis, and multilateral organisations find it difficult to forge a coordinated global response, Christian Aid is filling a gap: its concern is for the most marginalised people living in extreme poverty and inequality, exacerbated by Covid-19. In providing health care, creating jobs, defending human rights and delivering humanitarian aid, Christian Aid is making a difference.

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