Flaws in COVID-19 response put older Rohingya refugees lives at risk – Amnesty


Older Rohingya refugees are being left behind in the humanitarian response to COVID-19 pandemic as basic, accurate information about the illness and measures to prevent its spread is failing to reach many people in the camps, Amnesty International disclosed.

Humanitarian response pays insufficient attention to older refugees’ specific needs in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, placing them at higher risk of infection, the human rights group said.

“At the best of times, humanitarian organizations struggle or fail to meet the specific needs of older people in refugee and displacement camps,” said Matt Wells, Crisis Response Deputy Director – Thematic Issues at Amnesty International.

“Repeating this same mistake amid the COVID-19 pandemic puts older Rohingya women and men in imminent danger – with some of them not even receiving the most basic information about what is happening and how they can best stay safe,” he said.

Bangladesh, together with the UN and other humanitarian partners, has made efforts to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading to the camps outside Cox’s Bazar, including a decision to stop large gatherings, and order preventative measures.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) indicates there are more than 31,500 refugees age 60 or older in Cox’s Bazar, in south-eastern Bangladesh, among the almost 860,000 Rohingya forced to flee Myanmar, most of them since late 2017.

In June 2019, Amnesty International released a report on the impact of conflict and displacement on older people in Myanmar. It examined how, in the Bangladesh refugee camps, the humanitarian response has failed to respect older people’s rights to health, food, water, and sanitation.

Many problems stem from not including older people’s views and inputs and from not considering their needs and risks when designing assistance.

These same mistakes are being repeated with the COVID-19 response, despite all medical evidence demonstrating that older people are one of the most at-risk populations.

Some older people interviewed by Amnesty International had received little specific information about COVID-19.

Before large gatherings were barred and preventative measures like social distancing ordered, there were some informational meetings in the camps, but many older people were not informed. Those who knew about them were unable to attend because of physical disabilities that made it difficult, if not impossible, to navigate the camps’ hilly terrain.

Only one of the 15 older people interviewed by Amnesty International had anyone come to their shelter to provide information about COVID-19. A few others received news through family members about the disease and preventative measures like frequent hand-washing. Most had heard primarily from religious leaders and neighbours, with little detail other than the virus was very dangerous and they needed to “live clean”. As a result, fear is rampant.

“I’m very afraid, because if the virus arrives to the camp, no one will be alive, as here many people are living in very small place,” said Hotiza, a woman around 85 years old. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)