Virus threat marks ‘worst Eid ever’ for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps

Rohingya refugees walk on a road at the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 May 2020

Virus threat marks ‘worst Eid ever’ for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps

  • Health officials work to increase testing, beds capacity to deal with rise in COVID-19 cases
  • Government officials said 25 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the camps, after the first infection among Rohingya was recorded in mid-May

DHAKA: Eid Al-Fitr celebrations for Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh’s refugee camps have been overshadowed by the specter of the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Some members of the ethnic group said fears of contracting the virus had turned the religious holiday into “the worst festival ever.”

Mohammad Hashem, 32, a former international aid agency volunteer worker, told Arab News: “This was the worst Eid I have ever experienced in my life. Due to the coronavirus situation, I lost my temporary job and there was no money in hand. So, I could not buy anything for my three children.”

Another refugee, who would only give her name as Begum, said she had pawned her gold jewelry for $100 so she could make Eid special for her children.

“I brought some new clothes for my son and daughter with the money. The rest I spent on arranging some special Eid dishes for the family,” she added.

Government officials told Arab News that as of Tuesday, 25 cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the camps, after the first infection among Rohingya was recorded in mid-May.

It resulted in more than 15,000 being placed under lockdown as authorities also struggled to contain the outbreak in the densely populated camps of Cox’s Bazar which house more than 1 million refugees.

Kazi Mohammad Mozammel Huq, additional commissioner of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), said: “We are focusing mostly on maintaining social distancing at this critical juncture.

“Special Eid prayers were also organized in line with this direction and Rohingya offered the Eid prayers in different groups instead of gathering at a time.”

Officials said the uptick in infections and lack of COVID-19 testing kits meant a sizeable number of samples were yet to be tested.

Dr. Mahbubur Rahman, chief medical officer for the district of Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News: “Currently we have 1,200 samples waiting to be tested. On average, we can test a maximum of 190 samples per day.”

He added that authorities were working to improve facilities and double the frequency of testing over the coming days.

However, the district has yet to establish intensive care unit (ICU) facilities in hospitals to treat critical patients. 

“Some of the machinery for the ICU has reached Cox’s Bazar but others are awaited. Hopefully, we will be able to provide the services shortly, but I can’t predict the exact timing,” Rahman said.

Dr. Abu Taha Bhuyan, from the RRRC, said most COVID-19 patients among the Rohingyas were doing well. 

“There are four types of COVID-19 patients – mild, moderate, severe, and critical. Until now we have found only two-thirds of Rohingya patients with moderate conditions while others are mostly asymptomatic,” he added. 

Aid agencies are preparing to deal with an anticipated increase in the number of patients by placing their focus on boosting bed capacity.

Catalin Bercaru, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) spokesperson in Dhaka, said: “The current capacity in the district is 300 beds. This includes two newly installed treatment centers with a capacity of 200 beds built by the UNHCR (UN refugee agency) and supported by WHO. Other partners are planning on opening nine additional facilities with a total capacity of 700 beds.”

Bercaru added that, at present, there were six quarantine facilities available for more than 1,000 people.


Pakistan PM Khan slams ‘oppressor’ India on Kashmir anniversary

Updated 05 August 2020

Pakistan PM Khan slams ‘oppressor’ India on Kashmir anniversary

  • Solidarity marches were held in all major Pakistani cities to mark the anniversary of New Delhi stripping Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status
  • Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan territory, has been split since 1947 between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full and have fought wars over it

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan branded India an “oppressor and aggressor” on Wednesday, a year after New Delhi imposed direct rule on Indian-administered Kashmir.
Solidarity marches were held in all major Pakistani cities to mark the anniversary of New Delhi stripping Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, a move that outraged Islamabad.
Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan territory, has been split since 1947 between India and Pakistan, both of which claim it in full and have fought wars over it.
“India stands exposed before the world, yet again, as an oppressor and aggressor,” Khan said in a statement.
“Its so-called secular and democratic credentials stand fully discredited,” he added, calling India’s action last year a “crime against humanity.”
Khan led a march through Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, before addressing the region’s legislative assembly.
Across the city, more than 2,000 people turned out at a series of anti-India protests.
“We ask the world to give Kashmiris their right of self-determination, otherwise we will cross the Line of Control and help our brothers on the other side with arms,,” Arslan Ahmad, a refugee who fled Indian-administered Kashmir, told AFP.
“Half of my family is under siege in Indian-occupied Kashmir, my mother is dying to meet her sister, this dispute has left our generations torn apart,” 31-year old Usman Mir added.
Police were enforcing tight restrictions in Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday, where religious and political groups had called on residents to observe a “black day.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government had promised the move would bring peace and prosperity to Indian Kashmir after three decades of violence sparked by an anti-India uprising.
Pakistan, however, has alleged it is a violation of the rights of Kashmiri people.
Khan accused India of trying to turn Kashmir’s Muslim majority into a minority by ending restrictions on outsiders buying up property “in blatant violation of... UN Security Council Resolutions and international laws.”
The change in rules has sparked fears that the Modi government is pursuing an Israel-style “settler” project.
A referendum in Kashmir mandated by a UN resolution in 1948 has never taken place.
“India has learned from Israel how to change the demography (of Kashmir),” President Arif Alvi told a rally in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, which observed a one-minute silence.
Hundreds of billboards and banners displayed graphic images purportedly of human rights violations by Indian authorities in Kashmir.
On Tuesday, Pakistan released a new official map showing all of Kashmir as its territory.
The Pakistan military, meanwhile, said Indian troops had fired a shell across the de-facto border, killing a young woman and wounding six other people.
Such exchanges are common along the Kashmir demarcation line, with shells blasted in both directions.