Social distancing for the disconnected

Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo | Published: 00:00, May 17,2020 | Updated: 13:10, May 17,2020


Rohingya Camp in Cox'z Bazar - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Currently, there are more than 70 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. As the COVID-19 is bringing the world to its knees, the refugees are ome of the most vulnerable people because of their conditions. Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo talks about their plights

ON APRIL 14, on the Pahela Baishakh, I was at my desk, writing this article, counting the days of staying home. I came to my house from my university on March 18. It is almost one month that I am staying at home without going out, so do my family members. It is more or less a depressing uncertain vacation, and most of us are spending it with slugginess. But the people who are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19, the police, armies, government officials, health professionals, and emergency service providers who are working continuously and exposed to the virus, I pay my great admiration to them. We have to support them from the heart and of course, help them by abiding by the rules.

Though the time is not going that much easier for the mass, there are lots of fake news, dismay and misgiving spreading here and there. Recently a video got viral in Facebook messenger, in Narayanganj some people are not letting to bury a guy who died of COVID-19 because they thought the dead body would cause misfortune for them and spread the infection from the grave. Similar protest arose in a village of Manikganj, later resolved by the local authorities.

There was another touching story in Narayanganj; a young man remained untouched for eight hours after his death, and nobody was there to take him hospital before. There are lots of photos, where three or four people from the authority are arranging the necessary funeral. A Muslim guy didn’t get a place in a graveyard and had to be burnt in the crematorium. People are fleeing from the lockdown areas, hiding their illness, and helping the transmission to spread.

The economic crisis is exacerbating day by day; a little girl committed suicide due to food, whereas hundreds of local government members are caught stealing the reliefs, as media reports show. People are taking away the goods from relief truck forcefully. Everywhere there is a sign of mismanagement, the consequences of coronavirus are already started to impact; somewhere it is more severe than the real cause.

Undoubtedly consequences of COVID-19 is acute in different minority communities, especially the refugees. The Geneva Camp of Mohammadpur, Dhaka and Rohingya Camps of Cox’s Bazar are already under lockdown. In essence, access to Rohingya Camps for international humanitarian workers is under strict surveillance, which can interrupt the service they are getting from the global community.

A report published in the Axios confirms, researchers at John Hopkins University, modelled possible outcomes of a large-scale outbreak at the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the world’s most densely populated refugee camps. They estimate between 1,647 and 2,109 refugees could die. More than 723,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August 25, 2017. Not only in Bangladesh, but also there are already an enormous amount of displaced people around the world, who are going through the same crisis

Germany is currently accommodating about one and a half million refugees. Many live in the centres with several hundred inhabitants. Conditions are cramped and in some cases, residents share dormitories with strangers. Refugee rights organisations have long criticised the conditions and deficiency of privacy. At the moment, the fact that people have to share bathrooms and kitchens is worsening the situation and making contagion all the more likely.

Coronavirus transmission on local refugee camps already started there. According to the Berlin office for refugees (LAF) two centres are under complete quarantine. One of the houses accommodates 270 refugees, the other 100. Residents cannot go out for two weeks, not even to shop or to go to the doctor's. Caterers are providing food and doctors are paying visits to the centre. If more cases of COVID-19 are detected, the quarantine could be extended. A statement of LAF to the DW confirms there were also shared bathrooms in the two centres that are under quarantine.

In Greece, at least 20 refugees confirmed with coronavirus in a camp near Athens, as NPR reports. About 60000 refugees are living in camps across Greece. Since March 21, the Za’ataru and Azra1 camps have been on lockdown in Jordan. About 120000 Syrian refugees are living there. The government of Italy officially closed its ports to ships carrying refugees, Al Jazeera states.

As per Reuters stated, the government of Portugal announced all foreigners, including refugees with pending applications, will be treated as residents until July first at least, may access national services, welfare benefits, bank accounts, and work and rental contracts.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is seeking USD 255 million from the member states to address the effect on refugees. But a Wall Street Journal report shows that the UN and aid agencies are only providing essential services to refugee camps, such as food and emergency medical care, but programs offering occupational training have been suspended, which is still needed to train the people and make aware them about the vulnerabilities.

Almost 70 million refugees and displaced people around the world are in critical danger, Reuters notes. The Refugees International marked five main factors which make refugees and displaced people particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The first, population density and shared facilities which seriously interrupt the social distancing.The second, difficulty accessing basic necessities let alone the ICU facilities to treat critical cases. The third, limited access to information, language barriers and distrust of local authorities. The fourth, a stretched humanitarian supply as governments controls the access and supplies grow scarce. Finally strains on the finance of GO and NGOs that provide for refugees.

According to UNHCR, they are already started to respond to the outbreak in various countries. They have been focused on capacity building programs, WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) programs, particularly in Uganda, Ethiopia, Greece, Syria, Venezuela, Mexico, Bangladesh, and Brazil. Apart from that, they are also providing Personal Protection Equipments in Iraq and Iran, Communication facilities in Colombia.

International Organization on Migration, IOM also has taken a strategic preparedness and response plan to COVID-19 Pandemic. Which includes risk communication and community engagement activities, Cross-border coordination, crisis coordination, training for government employees, population mobility mapping exercises, and enhanced surveillance, and WASH services. But the problems marked by Refugees International can be significant obstacles to implement these actions, indisputably.  

Theoretically, it is confirmed that the national and multilateral actors are working on the crisis. But there is a handful of proofs that shows there is a lucid imbalance in terms of coordination, ie the complaints of the Wall Street Journal and local scenario of Bangladesh. Researchers should come up and work in the conflict zone between the actors. And the actors, explicitly, governmental bodies should become aware of the mismanagement and conflict between local people and the refugees.

And the local scale crisis of displacement always remains far from the mainstream policy process. Bangladesh faces a considerable amount of local-level economic and environmental displacement which is increasing by climate change effects. The governmental reliefs are distributing by checking the national identification card.

‘Only voters from a particular area are eligible for the relief’, a migrant from Pabna said, ‘There is no way to go back to my village, and I can’t collect the rations from this area.’ It became hard to live for them because they are only getting the non-governmental help which is insufficient.

This severe issue should have a proper concern because there is a considerable amount of people stuck in the cities, their workplace and they have no official recognition as migrants.

Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo is a freelance geographer and a student of Jahangirnagar University.

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