Rohingyas rush for safety as coronavirus threat looms over Bangladesh

By Azad Majumder

Dhaka, Mar 20 (efe-epa).- For the last few days, the most common item that Rohingya refugees have been seeking at a small shop in Kutupalang camp is not food but face masks.

“Every day I am selling dozens of mask. Many people came to me for a mask. But I cannot fulfill their demand always,” Mohammad Yunus, the shop owner and himself a Rohingya, told EFE.

Amid a potential danger of coronavirus outbreak, another Rohingya, Hossain Ali, said they were made aware of the need for using protective masks and hand sanitization by health workers in the camp.

“We have heard about coronavirus. They (the aid workers) also gave us some extra soap for maintaining hygiene,” said Ali, who lives in a small shelter with his six-member family in Bangladesh’s southeast Cox Bazar district.

Nearly 738,000 Rohingya refuge have arrived to live in camps in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, following a wave of persecution and violence in Myanmar that the United Nations has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.

As of Thursday night, Bangladesh had one death and 17 confirmed coronavirus cases, but the authorities and UN refugee agency agencies UNHCR said no suspected infected patient was situated in Rohingya camps.

That could not, however, completely allay the fears of the authorities and aid groups, with many expressing their concerns about the Rohingyas due to the density in the camps.

Bangladesh Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mahbub Alam Talukder said they have already sealed the boundary with Myanmar and asked the border forces to remain extra vigilant about any infiltration bid.

“Its huge border filled with jungle, terrain, so tough to guard always. But we asked out border forces to remain extra cautious. Inside the camps, we are also taking all necessary precautions,” said Talukder.

Talukder said they had already shut hundreds of learning centers at the camps except for using them to run health awareness sessions.

“We are translating the government health messages in Myanmar language and distributing them among the refugees as part of their awareness campaign,” he said, adding that the health centers in the camps were told to keep extra beds for quarantining refugees if necessary.

The UNHCR said it took the situation very seriously and was coordinating with the Bangladesh government to prevent any potential outbreak.

“The health and well-being of refugees and host communities is our top priority. While there are currently no suspected cases of COVID-19 in the camps, the humanitarian community takes the situation very seriously and is closely monitoring,” said UNHCR spokesperson Mostafa Mohammad Sazzad Hossain.

Hossain said 280 health workers had received training in Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) and up to 250 clinical focal points of health facilities were receiving refresher training on Early Warning Alert and Response System (EWARS).

Awareness-raising and sensitization sessions have so far been carried out with approximately 800 staff of various organizations with the latest information related to COVID-19, he said.

“The needs of local primary health centers have been assessed and support is being provided in the form of personal protective equipment, as well as for the establishment of isolation areas,” Hossain said.

Training of trainers for 180 refugee community health work supervisors began this week, who will in turn train all community health workers and other refugee volunteers on key messages, said the UNHCR spokesperson.

“The humanitarian community is taking all preventive and precautionary measures to mitigate the risks of COVID-19 for the people we serve, as well as our own teams,” he added.

Other aid groups said they were also taking necessary precautions to prevent the outbreak.

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