In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in line with Government of Bangladesh efforts, UNHCR and other actors have reduced their activities to essential only in Cox’s Bazar’s refugee settlements.
The Joint Response Plan (JRP) for the Rohingya Response was launched, appealing for USD 877 million in 2020. Additional funding is sought for COVID-19 activities via UNHCR’s Global COVID-19 Emergency Response.
Myanmar Curriculum Pilot (MCP) preparations are underway. UNICEF and UNHCR, as well as other partners, are aiming to reach 10,000 students by the end of 2020.
859,808 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district *824,748 Rohingya refugees are registered under the Government of Bangladesh-UNHCR registration exercise. There are also 35,060 Rohingya from pre-2016 and registered camps (as of 31 March 2020)
116,217 The number of refugee households who are being supported with cooking kits and Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders in the camps; 10,716 families in host communities are also being supported with cooking kits and LPG, it is planned to reach 30,000 host community families.
The general situation of refugees in Cox’s Bazar has been overshadowed by COVID-19 concerns. In line with global efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19, UNHCR ramped up prevention and preparation activities in the camps and host communities. This includes raising awareness and information sharing about the virus through multiple languages and channels, including radio spots, videos, podcasts, posters and more. Furthermore, UNHCR is conducting hygiene promotion, including soap and hygiene item distribution and establishing handwashing facilities throughout the camps, at distribution points, health facilities and nutrition centres. UNHCR also provides support to existing health centres in the camps and local communities with additional resources such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
UNHCR and partners are identifying sites to establish Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Isolation and Treatment Centres (SARI ITCs) for refugees and host communities. Bangladesh has a number of confirmed cases including only one case of a Bangladeshi national returning from abroad to Cox’s Bazar district. No cases were detected in refugee camps as of April 1.
In collaboration with other humanitarian agencies in Cox’s Bazar, and in line with the wider efforts of the Government of Bangladesh under its National Preparedness and Response Plan, intensive efforts are ongoing to ensure the camps are prepared to prevent and respond to any outbreak of the virus.
Through the Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), the humanitarian community is working closely with the Government of Bangladesh, including the Civil Surgeon, Deputy Commissioner (DC), Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), and Camp-in-Charges (CiCs). UNHCR has been advocating for refugees to be fully factored into national- and Cox’s Bazar-level response planning. The need to maintain critical humanitarian access has also been raised with authorities. At the same time, efforts are being made to reduce the staff footprint and risk of exposing refugees to the virus, with only critical staff now entering the camps.
As a precaution to reduce the possibility of the virus transmitting to the camps, the Government has halted all but critical services in Rohingya settlements. The authorized services and activities are mainly in the areas of health, nutrition, food and fuel distribution, hygiene promotion, hygiene kit distribution, water and sanitation activities, construction of health facilities and additional WASH infrastructure, site management support, logistics, and the identification of new arrivals/quarantine, and family tracing. Facilities and activities that are temporarily closed include educational facilities, women and child friendly spaces, training facilities, site development works, registration activities, and markets, although WFP e-voucher shops are still operational.
Since 15 March, the Government introduced several travel restrictions to Bangladesh, including a two-week self-quarantine for foreign nationals and Bangladeshis entering the country from other affected countries.
A Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 has been issued by OCHA, requesting USD 2.01 billion. In Bangladesh, the humanitarian community – through the ISCG - is examining additional needs for the refugee and host community response in Cox’s Bazar, outside of the JRP. Globally, UNHCR has urgently sought USD 255 million of additional funding to support prevention and response efforts for COVID-19 in refugee sites and host countries. Bangladesh is one of the priority countries targeted in the appeal for support.
A ban on the use of SIM cards and internet connectivity remains in place, impacting refugees’ ability to contact family members and access reliable information. It also has created challenges for field level coordination of humanitarian operations. Advocacy is ongoing with authorities considering COVID-19 and the need to ensure coordination of activities on the ground, particularly with agencies now limiting their staff footprint.
In parallel with COVID-19 preparations, UNHCR and partners continue to prepare for the monsoon season ahead and key activities to mitigate risks associated with potential cyclones in the coming months.