All around the world, the coronavirus numbers are climbing. Each day sees thousands of new cases and lives lost. In Cox’s Bazar we have been watching the world and holding our breath for the first confirmed case of COVID-19. And now it’s happened. With reports of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Cox’s Bazar, it’s just a matter of time until the virus reaches the vulnerable population living in cramped conditions in the largest refugee settlement on earth. Thousands of people could die.
As global life grinds to a halt in a bid to contain the coronavirus, we must remember that for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, their lives have already been in limbo for years, it is their status quo.
Life in a refugee camp should never be considered an acceptable long-term solution. We must challenge perceptions that because the Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar escaped Myanmar with their lives, they are safe. The coronavirus is a warning to us that we don’t have endless time to resolve the issues in Myanmar that would finally allow the Rohingya to return home. While the people and government of Bangladesh have generously continued to shelter the Rohingya for years, life in the camps is not safe.
Children, in particular girls, are at a high risk of exploitation, violence and trafficking. Rohingya refugees do not have access to livelihood opportunities to help them support their families.
We are now witnessing the impact that coronavirus is having in communities with strong health systems where people can social distance and wash hands, yet this virus has still brought them to their knees. In the densely packed camps of Cox’s Bazar, options for social distancing or self-isolation are remote.