The government of Bangladesh should take all necessary steps to protect Rohingyas and nearby host communities from coronavirus infection, said Fortify Rights on Monday.
The authorities should immediately lift all restrictions that prevent Rohingyas from freely accessing mobile communications and the internet and also halt the construction of fencing aimed to confine Rohingya refugees in camps, it said.
“Access to information is not only a right that extends to Rohingya refugees, it’s also essential to overall public health,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights.
“Protecting the rights of refugees and preventing an outbreak of disease go hand-in-hand.”
“Right after the detection of the first infected person in the country, we have taken precautionary measures in all 34 [refugee] camps,” Mahbub Alam Talukder, the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), told media in March 2020.
“We don’t have any equipment to test the virus. If we suspect anyone, we will isolate him or her. Then we will send the sample to Dhaka for confirmation,” he added.
On March 12, the World Health Organization’s Director-General declared the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, to be a “controllable pandemic.”
The disease poses a particular risk to populations that live in close proximity to each other, such as in refugee camps.
Access to adequate health care is already limited in the Rohingya camps, and many refugees suffer from current or chronic health issues, making them especially vulnerable to COVID-19, said Fortify Rights.
In December 2019, a novel coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China. There are now more than 167,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in at least 135 countries and territories. Bangladesh has confirmed eight cases of COVID-19 infections.
International humanitarian organisations and Rohingya-led groups are currently promoting best-practices in hygiene in the refugee camps in Bangladesh to prevent a potential coronavirus outbreak.
On March 10, the RRRC Office began a campaign to create awareness among Rohingya refugees about the virus.
However, since September 1, 2019, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has directed all mobile-phone operators to limit 3G and 4G services in Teknaf and Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar District.
According to media reports, the BTRC directive said the measures were to “ensure that the Rohingya people do not get access to the mobiles for the sake of state security and importance, law and order and public safety.”