Cox’s Bazar refugee camps: where social distancing is impossible
Social distancing simply isn’t possible for the 1 million Rohingya refugees who live in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, in southeastern Bangladesh.
Families live in close quarters inside flimsy bamboo shacks, using communal toilets and water facilities. Sometimes the most basic items, such as soap, are lacking.
Most of the Rohingya refugees living in the camp fled there in 2017, following a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military, which the UN has since said was carried out with “genocidal intent”. On top of psychological trauma, many have underlying health conditions that leave them especially vulnerable to Covid-19.
The UN, and other agencies, have raced to open new facilities in Cox’s Bazar,but equipment is still extremely limited, and it is feared medical centres could be quickly overwhelmed. As of 28 June, 49 cases and five deaths have been recorded.
Kind of makes you wonder if all the social distancing is a bunch of you-know-what and that there is some other reason for the large number of sick Americans.
Previous posts on COVID and Cox’s Bazar can be found in my Rohingya Reportscategory.
And, as of June 17th, the UN/IOM has begun processing refugees to be distributed throughout the west after a brief suspension of the UN/US Refugee Admissions Program.
Checking the data at the Refugee Processing Center, I see that we have admitted another 121 refugees in the two weeks since the hold on resettlement was lifted. In another couple of weeks we should be seeing that number jump as plane tickets are distributed in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Central and South America.
Just so you know the largest ‘welcoming’ states were California, Illinois and Florida. Here is where they went:
Now to Nayla Rush’s excellent analysis of the health and economic consequences of moving more third worlders to America amid the arguably unprecedented time in US history when every American is worried about getting sick and terrified about being unemployed.
The whole issue of refugee health has been given short shrift throughout the entire time I’ve been writing RRW, so it is no surprise that health concerns are not given serious consideration now!
I have 376 posts in my ‘health issues’ category and figured that it would take some rich peoples’ kids coming home with TB before the public would wake up to what we are doing.
Refugee Placement and Medical Concerns Amid a Covid-19 Pandemic and an Economic Crisis
Contagious diseases are key in the determination of inadmissibility to the United States. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires all refugees applying for U.S. immigration to receive a medical screening to determine inadmissibility on health grounds.11 Specific health-related conditions that pose a threat to public health (called Class A conditions) are grounds for inadmissibility when identified during the medical examination overseas. One class A condition is pandemic flu. New diseases can be added to the list by executive order of the president of the United States. President Trump has yet to update that list with the Covid-19 virus.
Quarantine regulations apply to everyone trying to enter the United States — whether legally or illegally — including refugees. Federal isolation and quarantine are authorized for several communicable diseases, including “severe acute respiratory syndromes; and influenza caused by novel or re-emerging influenza viruses that are causing, or have the potential to cause, a pandemic.”12 (Emphasis added.)
There is no indication that refugees are being tested for the Covid-19 virus overseas or placed under quarantine upon arrival. We know, for instance, that no special pre-departure Covid-19 precautions or testing seem to have been put in place for those refugees coming from Manus Island and Nauru. When asked about this issue, the Australian Home Affairs spokesperson remained vague, referring to general U.S. mandated pre-departure preparations. Father Giorgio Licini, the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands, said that “the men did not undergo coronavirus isolation in preparation for their departure.”13 We can assume this to be true of all refugees admitted during this crisis.
But even if they were, why welcome thousands of refugees in the midst of a health and economic crisis?Especially when we know that, on top of being vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus, refugees have specific health needs since they usually come from situations of poor hygienic conditions and health systems with a wide range of unmet health needs (including nutritional deficiencies, hepatitis B infection, tuberculosis infection, parasitosis, etc.) and mental health concerns such as alcohol and drug abuse.14 These health concerns can strain U.S. health and social systems, which are already overwhelmed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Resettlement agency representatives determine where refugees are resettled in the United States (usually, and for practical reasons, in states that host their local affiliates). They decide in which state to place a refugee, officially, in an attempt “to match the particular needs of each incoming refugee with the specific resources available in U.S. communities.”15 But how can states like New York, Michigan, and others (who had to deal with stringent stay-at-home orders, large numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths, rising unemployment, and limited medical capacity and resources such as hospital beds, ventilators, testing etc.) embrace the arrival of refugees into their communities? Were state and local health officials notified of the placement of refugees? Were state residents — who are being asked to continue making enormous sacrifices — informed of such arrivals and risks?
Moreover, how can refugees achieve “self-sufficiency” in the United States when states are just now coming out of lock-down, businesses are going bankrupt, and the employment situation for both immigrants (legal and illegal) and the native-born is disastrous following April and May employment figures?16 Are they just to rely on parts of the relief funds and resources of the CARES Act that are made available to refugees?
This report will cover the following points:
Refugee arrivals by nationality and destination since the creation of the president’s Coronavirus Taskforce;
Timeline of announcements by world health authorities and the U.S. government in response to Covid-19;
Placement of refugees in American communities: who gets to decide in which states refugees are resettled;
State and local say in the resettlement process, especially when state residents are asked to make important sacrifices amid a health and economic crisis;
Medical screening of refugees before and after resettlement: inadmissibility to the United States on health-related grounds, overseas medical examination of refugees to determine admissibility, domestic medical examination for newly arriving refugees in the United States, medical examination for adjustment of status;
Refugees’ specific health needs;
Access to healthcare and benefits in the United States; and
Relief funds and resources available to refugees following the CARES Act.
You know intuitively that this is insane—welcoming poor/unhealthy people to America right now—but, if you are looking for some facts go here to read Rush’s whole heavily-footnoted report.
And, you know if COVID was rampaging like “wildfire” through CROWDED camps housing millions of “vulnerable” refugees the “carnage” would make headlines worldwide today!
Try as I might, I could find no new stories about my personal petri dish—the huge camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh where we are told a million Muslim Rohingya live cheek by jowl in huts with no way to social distance.
I’ve been following the dire warnings on the expected crisis in the camps for months.
The first death at Cox’s Bazar was reported on June 3, here. That is over two weeks ago. We know of one more, so where is the carnage?
Here is a short video from the UN High Commissioner on Refugees and the World Health Organizationapparently in time for World Refugee Day today!
The UNHCR says this (not exactly what the Leftwing media is going to trumpet):
We have not seen, or not seen yet I should say, major outbreaks where we feared the most in large concentrations, in refugee camps.
But, see here that the international humanitarian industry has moved on to link the Chinese virus to hunger and is warning of a double whammy of starvation and death by COVID.
Here is one thing they say you can do!
Write to Congress and tell them to send more of your tax dollars (borrowed from China) to feed the world.
You can save lives by being an advocate for the hungry, especially the refugees. Bread for the World encourages citizens to write letters to Congress urging them to make global food aid a priority in the budget.
I will be watching and continue to report when (if!) the virus crisis does impact the world’s migrant populations—a real test of the value, or lack of value, of social distancing, or mask-wearing for that matter!
You may remember that in mid-March the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partner the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the entity that processes refugee travel, announced that due to the Chinese Virus crisis refugees would not be traveling to a new country. This was to protect the refugees from picking up the virus.
Joint Statement: UN refugee chief Grandi and IOM’s Vitorino announce resumption of resettlement travel for refugees
The temporary hold on resettlement travel, which was necessitated by disruptions and restrictions to international air travel caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, delayed the departures of some 10,000 refugees to resettlement countries. Throughout this period, UNHCR, IOM and partners continued to process and counsel refugees and resettled scores of emergency and urgent cases.
In addition, numerous resettlement countries established or expanded their capacities to apply flexible processing modalities, to adapt and ensure the continuity of their resettlement programs in unpredictable circumstances.
Although many travel restrictions still remain in place, as these begin to lift in many resettlement countries more refugee departures can be anticipated. UNHCR and IOM will continue to work with our government partners and other stakeholders around the world to move towards a return to normal operations as swiftly as the situation allows in each country.”
There was no moratorium!
During the supposed halt in refugee travel, the US admitted 523 (emergency) refugees that were distributed to 33 states.
Using data from the Refugee Processing Center, here is where the 523 who came in during the height of the virus crisis in the US, from March 17th, when the spigot was supposedly closed, to today.
Top ten states ‘welcoming’ refugees are: Texas (always number one!), Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, California, Georgia, Idaho/Utah (tied for tenth place).
The primary sending countries were the DR Congo (as usual), Burma, Pakistan, El Salvador, Iran and Syria.
I was very surprised to see that 194 of the 523 emergency refugees we admitted are Muslims (37%) of some stripe, included are 13 Somalis. 45 of 65 from Burma are Rohingya Muslims. No Christians from Syria out of 23 arrivals were among them, and only 4 of 17 from Iraq are Christians. So much for saving the Christians of Syria and Iraq!
I will be watching and let you know when I see the floodgates fully open!
Large swaths of the refugee/immigrant labor force that came to America (or who were brought here by the federal government) to provide a ready supply of cheap labor for giant global corporations are still sick or are afraid to return to work in the meatpacking industry.
The Chinese virus has exposed a great vulnerability not just for the companies, but for the future of the country. Any intelligent company will now begin to see the need to move faster toward automationand then what happens to the literally millions of immigrant workers with no skills and no English to learn new skills.
Reutersthis week canvassed some of the BIG MEAT companies and reports that meat production is still not returning to its former capacity. Workers are sick or scared to return to work.
Notice how they even have to put Trump into this story headline, as if Trump’s order had anything to do with the continued problems of an industry that was not forward thinking.
Meatpacking workers often absent after Trump order to reopen
[Chinese owned] Smithfield Foods Inc [SFII.UL] is missing about a third of its employees at a South Dakota pork plant because they are quarantined or afraid to return to work after a severe coronavirus outbreak, according to the workers’ union.
Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N) was forced to briefly close its Storm Lake, Iowa plant – a month after U.S. President Donald Trump’s April 28 order telling meatpackers to stay open – as worker absences hobbled its slaughter operations.
Nationwide, 30% to 50% of meatpacking employees were absent last week, said Mark Lauritsen, a vice president at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
Infections have risen steadily in rural counties that are home to large meatpacking plants since Trump ordered them to stay open. At least 15 meatpacking counties now report a higher infection rate, on a per capita basis, than New York City, the virus’s epicenter – though that is likely a reflection of the extensive testing of workers and local residents along with elevated infection rates.
More than a dozen meatpacking workers, union leaders and advocates told Reutersthat many employees still fear getting sick after losing confidence in management during coronavirus outbreaks in April and May. Absenteeism varies by plant, and exact data is not available, but some workers’ unwillingness to return poses a challenge to an industry still struggling to restore normal meat output.
In a report about refugees working in food processing in Abilene, Texas we see the same story.
If you have been wondering why Texas is still the number one destination of new refugees being admitted to the US (even as politicians there SAY they want it stopped), it is because of companies like this one that employs large numbers of immigrant/refugee laborers while changing the social and cultural makeup of American cities.
The article atFood & Environment Reporting Networkbegins with the usual refugee sob story. They must teach that in Journalism 101—soften up readers to the plight of the poor____ (fill in the blank)!
The story is long. It explains in detail the problems with a work force that is uneducated and living in close proximity to each other.
The pandemic is just the latest threat faced by refugee food workers in Texas
Lawi’s dilemma is one that many workers around the world are facing. But former refugees like Lawi can be particularly vulnerable in this pandemic.
Many former refugees are from rural parts of their home countries and had limited access to education. They might not read or write in their home languages, which makes it even harder to try to learn to read and write in English; they might only speak their own dialects, and their work experience is often constrained by the opportunities in overcrowded refugee camps where the average wait time to leave is close to 30 years.
A lack of education, work experience, and English language skills have made it especially hard for many former refugees to understand the scope of the pandemic and follow advice on social distancing.
Building ethnic enclaves is part of the problem….
Even without a pandemic, resettlement can present what feel like insurmountable obstacles. But agencies work to keep families and people of similar diaspora together because of their shared language and past, so they can quickly feel like extended family. Still, the fact that the community is often together—living in apartments near each other, spending time in each other’s homes outside of work—can be deadly in a pandemic.
Former refugees make up about 20 percent of the workforce at the AbiMar Foods plant. Because of that high number, the company’s outbreak was also a refugee-community issue. The close-knit nature of the community meant that those early days were especially crucial to stop the spread.
Bottomline, any smart company will be moving to mechanization and America will be left dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees admitted in recent years who have no skills and little opportunity to gain any.
The Obama Administration told the UN in 2014 that we would be ‘welcoming’ 50,000 from the DR Congo over the subsequent five years.
We have now surpassed that number by at least 10,000. See here in late 2019 we were at 58,999!