Rohingya refugees brace for COVID-19 in the world’s biggest camp

02 Apr 2020 by Gabriel Thomas, News Media Advisor
Rohingya refugees brace for COVID-19 in the world’s biggest camp

Rohingya families living in the world’s largest, most densely populated refugee camp are bracing for the spread of COVID-19, while humanitarian agencies race to deliver essential life-saving services to almost a million people.

859,000 refugees living in the sprawling makeshift megacity are extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. More than half the population are children. No cases of COVID-19 have been reported to date in the refugee camps, but one case was confirmed of a Bangladeshi woman living in the nearby community of Cox’s Bazar, southern Bangladesh. 

“Like people all around the world, refugees are trying to stay inside to ‘flatten the curve’, but the camp is arguably the most difficult place on earth to do that,” says Rachel Wolff, Senior Director of World Vision’s response in Cox’s Bazar. “Social distancing is almost impossible for families living eight to a room in one of world’s most densely populated places.” 

In the camps, an estimated 40,000 people per square kilometre live in plastic shelters crammed side-by-side. “We’re on the ground helping them prepare for if and when the virus hits the camps, but so much more needs to be done and time is short” says Wolff.

World Vision and other humanitarian agencies are delivering essential services including food assistance, health and nutrition services, and water and sanitation to the camps.

World Vision recently installed an additional 3,750 hand washing stations across the camps and distributed soap to 17,700 families. In partnership with the World Food Programme, the agency provides monthly food rations to 96,000 households.
As well as the threat to health, COVID-19 threatens to make refugee children even more vulnerable, amplifying the protection threats they face daily, such as physical and sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, child marriage, child labour and gender-based violence. 

“The number of separated and unaccompanied minors is likely to increase as older care givers are at high risk of mortality from the virus,” says Isabel Gomes, World Vision International’s Global Director of Humanitarian Operations. “It is vital that the world protects these children from bearing the burden of COVID-19. We continue to urge world leaders and governments to join in a unified response.”

Gabriel Thomas, News Media Advisor, World Vision New Zealand  |  ‚Äč+64 21 360 098