Boys walk in front of a panoramic view of Rohingya settlements in Kutupalong refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: AFP / Diego Cupolo / NurPhoto

The Covid-19 pandemic is now a global crisis. People all over the world are affected, and some of those at particular risk are Rohingya refugees. Many Rohingya now live in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, in Cox’s Bazar district, Bangladesh. As a Rohingya refugee myself and a community worker, I have been working non-stop to raise awareness about Covid-19 in one of the cramped camps, where people do not have access to adequate clean water and sanitation.

I have been doing door-to-door outreach in the refugee camps and find that my fellow Rohingya are extremely scared about the spread of the virus. During the outreach visits, I met a man who started crying after telling me how he is worried about the pandemic spreading. He is concerned with the lack of medical resources available for Rohingya refugees. I have seen first-hand the difficulties we face trying to mitigate the risks of contracting the virus. 

First, since September 2019, Bangladesh has placed restrictions on communications in the refugee camps and in some of the host communities in Cox’s Bazar district, such as Ukhiya and Teknaf. The government’s ban on mobile-phone SIM cards for the refugees and the restrictions on Internet access in the camps make it extremely difficult for us to share information about the virus. 

Some Rohingya civil-society groups are contributing to the disease-prevention efforts in the community. A youth group of which I am a member – Rohingya Youth for Legal Action – helps disseminate information in our own language across the camps. Many of our civil-society groups are collaborating to spread information among different populations. We could do this much better if we had access to mobile communication. 

I plead for the Bangladeshi government to allow us to have mobile communication access. This way, we could raise more awareness about the virus. 

Second, meaningful consultations with the camp population and information-sharing sessions about the spread of the virus are limited, and we need more. Rohingya are not properly consulted by humanitarian agencies or the Bangladeshi authorities, leading to information gaps.

These information gaps are problematic. For instance, some people in the camps are still gathering in public places and others are still going to religious gatherings. The refugees also lack information about hygiene such as good hand-washing practices.

Third, our refugee camps lack adequate health services and facilities. I humbly request that the global humanitarian community and the Bangladeshi authorities act quickly and dedicate more funding to health services in the camps. As well, more Rohingya volunteers should be hired to help stop the spread of Covid-19. This is important because it would create income for Rohingya families, and it is easy for such people to deliver key information in their own language.

I thank the government of Bangladesh for giving us safety. I plead to the government to help the Rohingya people during this global pandemic, because everyone has the right to health. Every human being is equal, including Rohingya refugees.  

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Rashid Mubarak

Rashid Mubarak is a Rohingya community worker and member of Rohingya Youth for Legal Action. You can follow him on Twitter @hroshidm.