COVID-19 Op-ed

Locating the Rights of the Rohingya Amid Covid-19

Written by admin

Saw Lin HtetStudent, Asia
Pacific MA Human Rights and Democratisation
Global Campus
of Human Rights Asia Pacific
Institute of Human Rights
and Peace Studies, Mahidol University

Currently, around one million Rohingya refugees live in
refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Southern Bangladesh (HRW, 2020). They are one
of the unrecognized ethnic minorities in Myanmar who have faced persecution
for generations. Aid agencies had warned about the potential risks of the
virus in the camps since the refugees are living in poor conditions and have
limited access to clean water. Nevertheless, the first two cases were
confirmed in the camps on 14 May, and 1,900 refugees isolated for health
tests (BBC, 2020).All refugees have the right of access to medical care and
schooling, and the right to work. They should receive “the same rights and
basic help as other foreigners with legal status” (UNHCR, 2002). 
However, aid workers are not able to rely on internet-based communication for
providing emergency health services during this pandemic and lockdown. The
Bangladeshi government has shut down the internet and restricted mobile
communications since September 2019. On the other side of the refugee camp in
Rakhine State, Myanmar, the Myanmar government has also banned mobile
internet services in nine townships in Rakhine and Chin States since June
2019 (HRW, 2020). The refugees face a lack of information due to the internet
shut down from both sides. The rumor around the camps is spreading that
“those who are found with this virus are shot to death,” so refugees are
afraid of testing for the virus (Ali, 2020). Although health-related pieces
of information are available in Roghigya language on the web in Myanmar,
Rohingya people can not access it because of the internet shut down (MIMU,
2020).Rohingya people are at risk of landslides and flooding, and face a lack
of access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene due to restrictions on
freedom of movement (HRW, 2020). They also encounter disasters as the camps
are located in disaster-prone areas in Bangladesh. On 21 May, a super
cyclonic storm, Amphan, damaged 300 Rohingya shelters in Cox’s Bazar, of
which 30 were destroyed entirely (NewAge, 2020). Last 13 May, a fire also
obliterated 312 accommodations and partially damaged 362 in the Kutupalong
refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar where 50,000 Rohingya refugees are living (Free
Burma Rangers, 2020). With the monsoon season coming, improved preparedness
is needed to manage not only the risk of the Covid-19 pandemic but also
unforeseeable disasters such as floods and landslides.On 21 May, both the
World Health Organization and the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, signed an
agreement for the preparedness, prevention, and response to Covid-19 for
refugees, internally displaced people, and forcibly displaced people (UNHCR,
2020).Rohingya refugees need adequate healthcare, testing kits, and
quarantine facilities in refugee camps. Additionally, both governments need
to lift internet restrictions so refugees can access health information from
both sides. Medical supplies, hygiene, and sanitary items are an urgent need
for the people at the refugee camps. Urgently, pregnant women and
breastfeeding women under quarantine need health care and psychosocial
support (UNFPA, 2020).According to the International Convention on Economic
Social and Cultural Rights, Article 12, General Recommendation 22, the right
to health belongs to the refugee, including women and vulnerable people.
Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child also guarantees
refugee children the right to protection, humanitarian assistance, and the
best interest of the child (Dutta, 2016). Since Myanmar and the Bangladeshi
government are signatories to the conventions, both governments must ensure
the Rohingya refugees’ rights according to their commitments.References:Ali, M.,
2020. The world’s largest refugee settlement is in the crosshairs of a
cyclone and a pandemic. The Washington Post. 
22 May. Available at: <>
.BBC, 2020. Coronavirus: Two Rohingya test positive in refugee camp. BBC
News.  14 May. Available at:
.Dutta, K., 2016. Checklists for Core International Human Rights
Treaties: A Handbook
. Bangkok: Asia Institute for Human
Rights.  Available at: <>
 .Free Burma Rangers, 2020. During the morning of 13 May, a devastating
fire took place.  22 May. Available at:
.HRW, 2020. Bangladesh: Internet Ban Risks Rohingya Lives.  26 March. Available at: <>
.HRW, 2020. Bangladesh: Rohingya Refugees in Risky Covid-19 Quarantine. Human
Rights Watch.  5 May. Available at:
.MIMU, 2020. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic. Myanmar
Information Management Unit,
18 April. Available at: <>
.NewAge, 2020. 330 Rohingya shelters damaged by cyclone Amphan. NewAge
Bangladesh.  22 May. Available at:
.Robertson, P., 2020. Myanmar Again Cuts Rakhine State’s Internet. Restore
Telecommunications, Allow Aid to Conflict Areas.  5 February. Available at: <>
.UNFPA, 2020. Pregnant Women, new mothers and newborns in Cox’s Bazar
urgently need your help.  Available at:
.UNHCR, 2002. Protecting Refugees: questions and answers.  1 February. Available at: <>
.UNHCR, 2020. WHO and UNHCR join forces to improve health services for
refugees, displaced and stateless people. 
21 May. Available at:

About the author