SITUATION AT A GLANCE
Since late June, Government of Burma military operations against the Arakan Army (AA) armed group have resulted in increased population displacement in Rakhine State. Humanitarian access in the affected areas remains highly restricted, and protection issues persist throughout Rakhine.
Restrictions related to coronavirus disease (COVID19) have limited humanitarian access and impeded critical activities in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar District.
On September 5, Government of Bangladesh officials hosted “go-and-see” visits for 40 Rohingya refugees and several camp officials to Bhasan Char Island—a previously uninhabited and flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal.
Military Operations Drive Population Displacement in Northern Rakhine Between June 25 and 30, a Government of Burma military offensive against the AA in northern and eastern areas of Rakhine’s Rathedaung Township displaced at least 2,800 people to other areas of Rathedaung, as well as neighboring Buthidaung, Ponnagyun, and Sittwe townships, the UN reports. Prior to the late June military offensive, the AA–Government of Burma conflict had already displaced an estimated 14,600 people in Rathedaung. Humanitarian access to Rathedaung remains limited, restricting needs assessments and the delivery of assistance to new internally displaced persons (IDPs) and affected host communities, according to the UN. The AA–Government of Burma conflict has displaced more than 86,000 people—77,000 of whom now reside in IDP sites in Rakhine—since hostilities intensified in late 2018.
Additionally, according to an April Oxfam survey, displaced Rohingya and Kaman women in IDP camps in Rakhine face particular challenges due to significant protection risks, crowded shelter conditions, and impediments to accessing health care. Rohingya and Kaman women surveyed reported spending most of their time in small, overcrowded shelters and being discouraged from leaving the shelters to access health care and other services due to movement restrictions and gender norms. Rohingya and Kaman women also reported the risk of gender-based violence (GBV), particularly when accessing the camps’ public latrines at night. As the Government of Burma’s national camp closure strategy—the Government of Burma’s plan to close or relocate IDP camps throughout the country—proceeds, Oxfam and other relief agencies continue to advocate the lifting of movement restrictions, improvement of shelter conditions in the camps, and consultation with IDPs on durable solutions as immediate priorities to assist women and other vulnerable populations in IDP camps in Rakhine.
Relief Organizations Continue COVID-19 Advocacy and Response in Rakhine Humanitarians have expressed concern about a recent outbreak of community transmission and surge in confirmed cases that began in Rakhine’s capital of Sittwe in mid-August. As of September 1, the Government of Burma Ministry of Health and Sports confirmed 409 COVID-19 cases in Rakhine since mid-May, of which 393 cases were confirmed between August 16 and September 1; additionally, on August 31, health actors confirmed the first COVID-19 case in an IDP site in Rakhine. Across Burma, health agencies have confirmed 2,265 COVID-19 cases as of September 11, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) reports. WHO is continuing advocacy efforts with and providing technical support to the Ministry of Health and Sports and the Rakhine State Health Department to curb the outbreak in Rakhine, including through improving COVID-19 isolation, patient transport, triage, and treatment capacity; strengthening infection prevention and control protocols and adherence; educating staff on personal protective equipment (PPE) use; and enhancing disease surveillance and reporting. U.S.
Government (USG) partners operating in Burma are also implementing measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission among beneficiaries, humanitarian workers, and host communities by encouraging the proper use of PPE, emphasizing effective handwashing and sanitation practices, and maintaining spaces for adequate physical distancing at distribution sites.
Flooding Affects Vulnerable Populations in Kachin State In mid-July, flooding caused by monsoon rains temporarily displaced more than 6,500 people in 19 townships across Burma’s Kachin State, the UN reports. Additionally, heavy rains in western Kachin in early July triggered a landslide that resulted in at least 172 deaths and more than 50 injuries. Humanitarian organizations continue to implement preparedness measures to mitigate the impact of flooding throughout Kachin, including coordinating with local authorities to establish contingency stocks of relief items to facilitate the efficient deployment of supplies when needed. USG partners are providing health assistance and protection services, as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) kits to vulnerable communities affected by the flooding.
Rohingya Recognize Three Years Since Mass Displacement From Burma On August 25, the international community joined Rohingya refugees in recognizing the three-year anniversary of the Rohingya mass exodus from Burma; beginning on August 25, 2017, a Government of Burma military campaign in western Burma prompted more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
In marking of the anniversary, the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG)—a humanitarian coordinating body comprising UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other stakeholders in Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar—acknowledged the resilience of Rohingya refugees and the generosity of Bangladeshi host communities, called for renewed support to address the humanitarian crisis, and reaffirmed its commitment to meeting the critical needs of the affected communities and identifying durable solutions for refugees, including their safe, dignified, sustainable, and voluntary return to Burma when conditions allow.
COVID-19 Complicates Protection Service Delivery in Cox’s Bazar The outbreak of COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar and containment measures by local authorities have significantly impeded GBV interventions, mental health and psychosocial support activities, and other protection-focused humanitarian services within the district, according to a June Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) report. Humanitarian organizations have had limited direct access to GBV survivors, which has hindered efficient and confidential response to individual needs. In response to these protection gaps, as of mid-August relief organizations in Cox’s Bazar and the Government of Bangladesh Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) were in discussions about implementing a July National Task Force decision to officially resume protection and additional critical services in the camps, the ISCG reports. Due to access restrictions for humanitarian staff, relief organizations have recruited and trained approximately 2,000 refugee volunteers since May to assist in disseminating critical messaging on GBV prevention and protection initiatives throughout the camps and host communities, ACAPS reports. Additionally, USAID/BHA partner the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has provided mental health and psychosocial support messaging to approximately 43,100 people, distributed emergency relief supplies to nearly 1,100 beneficiaries, and trained nearly 40 isolation and treatment center staff to respond to incidents of GBV in Cox’s Bazar as of July 24. IOM also continued to support local primary health care facilities, where medical staff provided more than 25,300 primary health consultations to residents of Cox’s Bazar and the surrounding area during the same time period.
Relief Actors Aim to Mitigate Impacts of COVID-19, Flooding in Cox’s Bazar Amid ongoing heavy monsoon rainfall throughout Bangladesh, relief actors—including USG partners CARE, IOM, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)—are continuing COVID-19 and disaster risk reduction (DRR) programming in Cox’s Bazar to address the impacts of the monsoon rainfall and minimize transmission risks for COVID-19 and other waterborne and vector-borne diseases. Despite limited access to the refugee camps due to weather conditions and COVID-19-mitigation measures imposed by the Government of Bangladesh, relief organizations continued to implement activities, including livelihoods, health, protection, shelter, and WASH programs, in July. As part of these efforts, relief organizations completed nearly 80 landslide mitigation projects and repaired more than 160 feet of drainage infrastructure, nearly 160 staircases, and nearly 500 feet of bridges in the camps that had been damaged during the floods. The organizations also conducted awareness-raising sessions for 350 Rohingya households on insulating shelters from the monsoon rains, and continued to repair latrines and bathing cubicles damaged by the heavy rainfall.
Government of Bangladesh Reaffirms Intent to Relocate Refugees In an August 24 public statement, Government of Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen reaffirmed the government’s intent to relocate Rohingya refugees to Bhasan Char Island and outlined a relocation plan and timeline, starting with moving 10,000 refugees to the island following Bangladesh’s June-to-October monsoon season. In early May, the Government of Bangladesh already transferred more than 300 Rohingya stranded at sea to Bhasan Char. Since then, the UN has been negotiating terms of reference (TORs) to conduct a humanitarian protection visit for the refugees on Bhasan Char; in his remarks, Bin Momen reiterated government support for UN access to Bhasan Char to establish a response framework for the island, but agreement on the protection assessment TORs remains outstanding. On September 5, the Government of Bangladesh armed forces escorted 40 Rohingya community leaders, two female refugees, and several government representatives, including Camp in Charge and Office of the RRRC officials, from the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar to Bhasan Char Island for a three-day “go-and-see” visit to better inform the refugees about the island, local media report.
WHO Urges Increased COVID-19 Testing in Cox’s Bazar Host Communities WHO has called for increased COVID-19 testing among Cox’s Bazar host communities following a reduction in testing rates since July, when the Government of Bangladesh introduced testing fees; refugees in the district are not charged for COVID-19 testing. Although the fee was recently reduced from $2.50 to approximately $1.20, the fee remains a significant deterrent from host community members getting tested, WHO reports; host community stigma around COVID-19 has also deterred testing. The UN agency has urged for greater community engagement in host communities to increase testing rates and encourage early diagnosis of the disease and isolation of cases. While testing has decreased, the positive COVID-19 test result rate for the host community continues to fluctuate between 10 to 20 percent, compared to the approximately 2 percent positive rate in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. In the refugee camps, WHO notes that the majority of test samples collected were among refugees ages 29 years and younger, and has advocated for increased testing among older age groups, amid other robust COVID-19 preparedness and response activities in the camps. As of September 11, WHO reported 130 confirmed COVID-19 cases among the refugee population in Cox’s Bazar, 4,082 cases within Cox’s Bazar host communities, and 332,970 cases nationwide.