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COVID-19 in Rohingya refugee camps a 'nightmare scenario'

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PLEASE SEE BELOW STATEMENT FROM REFUGEES INTERNATIONAL SENIOR ADVOCATE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS DANIEL P. SULLIVAN:

“The first positive case of COVID-19 in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh is the realization of a nightmare scenario. Home to nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees, the population density of these camps is far higher than New York City. In addition, the prevalence of underlying health conditions among refugees and the deteriorating sanitary conditions sure to come with the looming monsoon and flooding season make for a witch’s brew of conditions in which the virus is sure to thrive. The government of Bangladesh, working with the UN and humanitarian agencies, must take swift action to prevent and prepare for further spread.

The government of Bangladesh should immediately lift phone and internet restrictions in the camps that are holding back vital communications. The lack of access to accurate information is fueling misinformation, and rumors abound in the camps that COVID-19 is always fatal or that the faithful will be safe. Open communication is critical to promoting hygiene awareness and tracking the spread of the disease. Rohingya refugees must also be at the center of the response. Bangladesh should empower Rohingya civil society who are already well placed to communicate life-saving information about COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the medical resources necessary to respond will be strained by an already existing dearth of respirators and intensive care units across Bangladesh. Bangladesh authorities and UN agencies have been conducting health trainings, hygiene awareness campaigns, and planning further isolation sites. However, all of these activities need to be ramped up. Maintaining communications restrictions at this critical time will only unnecessarily further restrain these efforts.

These essential first steps will not only help protect one of the world’s most vulnerable populations but will also serve as a frontline in the global battle to stop the virus.”

For more information or to schedule an interview with Daniel, please contact Sarah Sheffer at ssheffer@refugeesinternational.org* or 202 540 7029.*