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COVID-19 Explained: Overview of Rohingya Perceptions (Edition #1, 26th March 2020)


Executive summary

This report is based on 25 focus group discussions (FGD) and Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) with Rohingya living across Ukhia and Teknaf Camps. Discussions took place between the 15th and 19th of March, 2020 and were conducted primarily by Rohingya Communication with Communities (CwC) Volunteers who recorded and transcribed discussions. The objective of these consultations is to ensure Rohingya’s voices are included in all stages of the COVID-19 response and provide an avenue for Rohingya refugees to express their questions and concerns. COVID-19 Explained aims to provide decision makers with an understanding of the current perceptions, understanding and information being circulated about COVID-19 among Rohingya within the camps and inform programming decisions that are being made in preparation for a potential COVID-19 outbreak. These consultations will also feed into messaging and outreach strategies designed and implemented by IOM and other humanitarian response agencies.

Key findings and recommendations

For COVID-19 information needs:

  • People need to understand that the virus is not fatal and be given an honest series of messages regarding actual risks and treatment plans. The approved messaging must be accompanied with complimentary messaging to address the rumours and misperceptions surrounding the fatality, spread, and treatment of the virus. People believe the virus is always fatal, don’t know who is at risk, and don’t understand the difference between prevention, transmission and treatment.

  • The virus needs to be presented as an illness which can be treated and prevented through normal measures. People suspected of infection are being highly stigmatized. This is leading to underreporting of symptoms and causing harm to people who are suspected of having COVID-19.
    Messaging that addresses stigmatization and encourages reporting of symptoms is of critical importance.

  • More nuanced and detailed understanding of Rohingya religious traditions and how these relate to COVID-19 guidance are critical. The current programming is not effective at transforming attitudes and simply aims to “replace” existing norms and traditions. It is important to realize that that Rohingya religious traditions have been a key coping strategy historically that have allowed them to deal with disasters, political persecution and other hardships. Rohingya will rely on these beliefs and practices through the COVID-19 crisis and humanitarians need to develop more nuanced approaches to engage with religious beliefs that transform interpretations instead of forcibly change existing value systems.