Arakan Rohingya Union, US Council of Muslim Organizations, and The European Rohingya Council Call on the International Community to Protect Rohingya Refugee Communities from the COVID-19
Arakan Rohingya Union (ARU), United States Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), and The European Rohingya Council (ERC) urgently call on the international community to mobilize the government agencies, medical communities, and health care organizations to protect Rohingya refugee communities in South and Southeast Asia during the current global health crisis of COVID-19 pandemic.
The mounting threat of the coronavirus disease outbreak in highly vulnerable displaced Rohingya people is a serious concern. The Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh and India, and the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Arakan/Rakhine State, Burma/Myanmar, are some of the world’s most crowded camps with little or no sanitation. Of over 1.2 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, 630,000 plus are packed in Kutupalong alone, which is reportedly the single largest refugee camp in the world at a population density of over 40,000 people per square kilometer.
In Arakan, over 200,000 internally displaced Rohingya and several thousand other ethnic groups live in high density squalid camps. There is limited access to those IDP camps for delivery of humanitarian relief supplies. The remaining some 600,000 Rohingya in villages in Arakan also face serious challenges to protect themselves from the COVID-19 due to lack of access to medical and other essential services and various forms of restrictions on Rohingya ethic minority placed by the Government of Burma. The Burmese Government officials in Sittwe Township in Arakan are reportedly providing sanitation supplies with instructions for preventive measures to Buddhist Rakhine community, but none to Rohingya.
The internet blackouts in Northern Arakan and parts of Southern Bangladesh are making the health situation highly volatile. Educating Rohingya on healthcare, sanitation, and other preventive measures for COVID-19 through online education and information dissemination is virtually non-existent in refugee camps in Bangladesh and IDP camps and villages in Northern Arakan in Burma. Online health care education is one of the most important preventive measures during this critical time.
We commend the Government of Bangladesh for taking significant steps in coordination with WHO, UNHCR, and other international agencies to prevent the disease and address health issues in the camp areas and beyond. However, more needs to be done, and additional preventive measures should be implemented for the safeguard of the highly vulnerable Rohingya refugees with urgency.
We call on:
- The Government of Burma to swiftly implement concrete measures to safeguard all the communities in Arakan, including the Rohingya, from COVID-19 via coordination with the international agencies.
- The Government of Burma to allow the international relief groups to deliver necessary medical, sanitation, and food supplies to the IDP camps in Arakan.
- The Government of Burma and the military (Tatmataw) not to exploit the COVID-19 global pandemic situation against Rohingya refugees and IDPs in any form and deliberately put them in harms way.
- The international community, including WHO, UNHCR, Red Cross, Red Crescent, other NGOs, and governments to drastically step up measures for prevention of COVID-19 and treat illnesses in refugee and IDP camps in Bangladesh and in Arakan, Burma.
- The Governments of Burma and Bangladesh to lift internet blackouts in Arakan and camp areas in Southern Bangladesh, respectively, during this global health crisis in order to disseminate COVID-19 and other health related information. It is a critical issue that the governments need to address immediately.