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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 in its weekly update for 9-15 October that the cumulative totals for confirmed COVID-19 cases are 277 cases in the refugee camps, and 4,635 cases in the host community.

To date there have been 8 Rohingya refugee fatalities due to COVID-19, and 70 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.

A press release from 21 October from the ICSG and other humanitarian partners announced that they had distributed of over 2,855,850 million reusable masks in all 34 Rohingya refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar and to the local host communities in the District. The reusable masks have been produced through an initiative engaging more than 2,480 skilled tailors in both the refugee camps and in the host community, allowing them to generate income.

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.

On 22 October, the UK co-hosted an international summit on the Rohingya crisis, along with the US, EU and UNHCR, to bring together the international community to raise funds for the humanitarian response.

At the summit the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, announced £47.5million in new UK aid to support Rohingya refugees and help Bangladesh deal with coronavirus and natural disasters.

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