Rohingya Refugees & COVID-19: Facing the Pandemic in the World’s Most Densely Populated Refugee Camps

As COVID-19 spreads worldwide, it has the most dire impact on vulnerable communities. The camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh have the highest concentration of refugees in the world, with over 860,000 Rohingya refugees. The living conditions in these camps are grim, with a high population density, poor sanitation facilities and water quality, and lack of medical facilities. Now, we are seeing the beginning of a much-feared COVID-19 outbreak in the Rohingya refugee camps. 

MedGlobal details the latest on-the-ground updates and health needs in our new report: Rohingya Refugees & COVID-19: Facing the Pandemic in the World’s Most Densely Populated Refugee Camps

This report details the latest COVID-19 updates from the Cox’s Bazar camps: 

40 confirmed cases among Rohingya refugees in the camps

3 deaths from COVID-19 among Rohingya refugees

1,732 confirmed cases among Cox’s Bazar host community members

436 tests conducted for Rohingya refugees (only 4.1% of total tests in Cox’s Bazar)

MedGlobal has been working in Cox’s Bazar since 2017, serving more than 112,300 Rohingya refugees and vulnerable members of the Bangladesh host community. Based on our field team’s needs assessments and information from the Health Sector, this report explores key considerations for the COVID-19 response for Rohingya refugees, outlines a table of key needs, and puts forth recommendations. Key local considerations are critical to inform the COVID-19 crisis response, and include Rohingya local knowledge and perceptions, the impact of scaling down other health services, Cox’s Bazar travel limitations, WiFi connectivity restrictions, and monsoon season. 

This report identifies several recommendations for how health focused NGOs and international organizations should adapt during the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Scale up the COVID-19 prevention and response work.
  • Maintain core health services.
  • Promote a needs-based reassignment of health workers. 
  • Adapt services to use alternate modalities for care. 
  • Adjust standard clinic operations such as facility mapping for social distance.
  • Prioritize protection of the most vulnerable. 
  • Expand mental health programming. 
  • Ensure local knowledge and religious beliefs inform the COVID-19 response.
  • Work to increase community confidence in health services.
  • Scale up community-based surveillance. 

For governments, including donor governments and the Bangladesh host government, this report puts forth the following recommendations: 

  • Allow full access for humanitarians and health workers into the camps. 
  • Improve internet connectivity in the camps.
  • Improve information sharing processes related to COVID-19 with Rohingya refugees. 
  • Maintain funding for core health services.
  • Allow flexible funding. 
  • Reiterate that there should be no forced return of refugees.

Rohingya refugees have faced ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, and overcrowded conditions in the world’s largest refugee settlement. Now, they face a COVID-19 outbreak. An immediate and comprehensive response is needed from the international community to stop preventable deaths. These communities must not be forgotten.

Read the entire report here.