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Since August 2017 Muslim Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, into Bangladesh. Over 850,000 refugees are now living in highly congested conditions in 34 refugee camps around Cox’s Bazar the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Alongside the refugees are the host communities, which number around 440,000 people.

There are also large numbers of international aid workers living there.

The Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) brings together the main humanitarian actors who work with Bangladeshi and Rohingya communities. They provide regular updates on the situation in Cox’s Bazar district.

The ISCG reported that at the beginning of September that the cumulative totals for confirmed COVID-19 cases are 123 cases in the refugee camps, and 4,012 cases in the host community.

To date there have been 6 Rohingya refugee fatalities due to COVID-19, and 64 fatalities of host community members.

It has been suggested that the prevalence of the disease may be higher, but that Rohingya refugees with symptoms are not coming forward to get tested because of fears of the disease and the associated stigma. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, are working to tackle such fears and encourage testing.

Humanitarian groups like the International Rescue Committee are concerned that people in refugee camps face a heightened risk of Covid-19. One medical doctor, working with the IRC in Cox’s Bazar, explained the dangers: “they live in very congested camp conditions, also their hygiene and sanitation facilities are not adequate. It is really difficult for them to practice social distancing.”

The UN has warned that, given the conditions in the camps in Bangladesh and the high levels of vulnerability among the population, “the severity of the possible impact of the virus on refugees is of major concern”.

As well as COVID-19, refugees are at risk from flooding and landslides caused by the monsoon rains. Thousands of refugees have already been affected by severe weather.

The Government is a major aid donor for existing programmes operating in Bangladesh to improve health and tackle poverty. The UK’s planned bilateral aid budget for 2019/20 is £192 million.

In July the Government set out in a response to a Parliamentary Question the resources it has directed to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak in Bangladesh:

To date the UK has allocated £21 million to support the Government of Bangladesh’s Preparedness and Response Plan objectives. This includes more than £7 million for testing and treatment by the national health system and £3 million through UNDP to reach more than 2 million of the poorest people living in urban slums. In the Rohingya refugee camps, over £11 million has been allocated to UN and NGO partners to prepare for COVID-19 and to provide critical humanitarian services, including testing, isolation and treatment.

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