Refugee camps

“Repatriation with our rights is as urgent as a vaccine for the treatment of COVID-19”

Human rights are incomparable and cannot be prioritized. Nothing is as important as health and starvation can lead to death. Our younger generation is already being exploited into trafficking, drugs and unwanted activities without access to education.

For now, we can prioritize issues that are urgent. As COVID-19 is devastating countries around the world, it is no surprise that the virus has reached the refugee camps. We need proper healthcare management and food supply to stay alive. These are issues that can affect our people sooner than others.

There should be widespread testing in the camp to tackle the spread of COVID-19. This will only be possible when people are assured about their well-being and not frightened by coercive quarantine and stigmatisation about their illness. Information should be accessible and transparent.

Many NGOs halted their operations after the COVID-19 outbreak. These paved in many new challenges. Many daily wages labourers don’t have money to complete their meal. The traditional food ration doesn’t make a complete meal. People have to buy vegetables and fishes from their own pocket. Some Rohingya youths had jobs at NGOs. But now they lost those jobs and are facing a hard time.

The closure of learning centres has major impact on students. They do not have internet access or online education facility. We should come forward with an alternative solution such as distance learning.

There has been some progress in female leadership as some stubborn women came forward to educate women about their rights as women and human and create awareness about gender-based violence and other issues. Since we didn’t have females in leadership before, it’s too early to break the tradition in a community, marginalized for decades.

The pandemic could aggravate sexual and gender-based violence, as more women have to stay in confinement of shelters in refugee camps.

I’m really concerned for we have shortage of youths (both male and female) in leadership who can guide the community in the right direction. We can bridge the gap with education and training.

A voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation with our rights is as urgent as a vaccine for the treatment of COVID-19.

Ro Mehrooz is a Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Read more about the Campaign to protect the rights of the Rohingyas