Still Waiting for the COVID ‘Crisis’ to Reach Refugee Camps

On and off over the last few weeks I’ve been following media warnings that all hell is going to break lose in refugee camps worldwide where tens of thousands of refugees are packed together in filthy conditions (so we are told), and yet still no serious outbreak of the Chinese virus.

What gives?

Maybe it is too soon, maybe the crisis is yet to come, but if it doesn’t what does that tell us about the whole concept of social distancing as we stay behind our closed doors with the monster menacing on our doorstep.

I checked again this morning and the latest dire warning comes from PBS Frontline about the large Rohingya camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

A week earlier the UN said it would be “devastating” if the virus arrived in the camp. Two weeks ago we reported on the anticipated “carnage” to come.

But before we get to that, it’s time for a trip down memory lane!

I first wrote about Cox’s Bazar over ten years ago when even Time magazine was reporting that it was an Islamic terrorist hidey-hole.

This is what Time said (link is now dead, so it’s a good thing I snipped it!) about Cox’s Bazar:

Today, southern Bangladesh has become a haven for hundreds of jihadis on the lam. They find natural allies in Muslim guerrillas from India hiding out across the border, and in Muslim Rohingyas, tens of thousands of whom fled the ethnic and religious suppression of the Burmese military junta in the late 1970s and 1980s. Many Rohingyas are long-term refugees, but some are trained to cause trouble back home in camps tolerated by a succession of Bangladeshi governments. The original facilities date back to 1975, making them Asia’s oldest jihadi training camps. And one former Burmese guerrilla who visits the camps regularly describes three near Ukhia, south of the town of Cox’s Bazar, as able to accommodate a force of 2,500 between them.

That was all before the Rohingya became the media-created poster children for Muslim oppression by the Buddhists of Burma.***

From PBS yesterday:

Facing COVID-19 in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, Young Rohingya Help Prepare for an Outbreak

Every day, before dawn breaks, a student named Robi wakes up in the world’s largest refugee camp to pray.

Until a few weeks ago, many of those prayers were made at a local mosque, one of the few safe havens for his displaced community of Rohingya Muslims living in Cox’s Bazar, on Bangladesh’s sandy southeast coast. But the mosques and schools are now closed, as the threat of the novel coronavirus creeps closer to this vulnerable, tightly packed group.

The first case was confirmed within the local community last month, and the number of cases is growing.  [That would be March, so where are the cases a month later?—ed]

Athena Rayburn of Save the Children

“We’re very much on borrowed time,” said Athena Rayburn, Save the Children’s humanitarian advocacy manager in Cox’s Bazar.


In late March, in a bid to stem the spread of the virus, the government restricted camp access to the more than 100 aid agencies working there. Now, only frontline workers deemed critical are being allowed in. They’re providing food and some medical aid, Rayburn said, but the services “are not currently sufficient to treat an outbreak.”


In Cox’s Bazar, there’s no such thing as social distancing.

Here, people pack together at an average of 100,000 people per square mile — far closer quarters than on a cruise ship. In these cramped quarters, accessing clean water and proper hygiene can be difficult. “People are very worried and upset,” said Mohammad Arfaat, a 25-year-old Rohingya filmmaker who lives in the camp with his family. “People are living together and sharing toilet you know, water pipe, everything, so if anyone is infected in the camp it will be very harmful.”

More here.

We will keep an eye on this story and report when/if the Chinese Virus arrives at Cox’s Bazar.  (Bangladesh at present has over 6,000 cases.)  If it doesn’t arrive in the camps in any significant way what will we learn from that lesson—that social distancing doesn’t matter, or perhaps that the media is whipping up fear (again) to create sympathy for the Rohingya?

We will be watching!

***I have an extensive archive with 231 previous posts I call Rohingya Reports for your reading pleasure (during your COVID incarceration).  You need to know more about this ethnic group since it is one of the few Muslim refugee groups being admitted to the US in recent years. (Besides the Afghan special refugees.)

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3 thoughts on “Still Waiting for the COVID ‘Crisis’ to Reach Refugee Camps

    1. True, I did forget the Iraqis cause the numbers are tiny right now from Iraq. Tomorrow I should be able to get a better sense as the new monthly numbers will be out for refugees and SIVS.

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