#SaferTogether against COVID-19: protecting the Rohingya in Bangladesh

European Commission
Apr 23 · 4 min read
Children plays on a newly built street in the refugee camp of Kutupalong, in Bangladesh. ©Olivier Laban-Mattei/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

The Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar is the largest in the world. Cox’s Bazaar is a port city, located along Bangladesh’s south-eastern coastline. Many of the Rohingya refugees arrive there by boat with nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Thanks to EU funding and the work of EU partners in the region, when the refugees arrive, they have access to health care, mental health support, food, and clothing. They have a safe place to stay, and life can continue.

Half of the refugees in the camp are children, living in very precarious situations. ©Olivier Laban-Mattei/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Bangladesh has long provided safety for Rohingya escaping the discrimination and violence in Myanmar. But the pandemic brings with it multiple crises: extensive medical needs, closed schools, increasing domestic violence and suicides. The country does not have the resources to protect so many vulnerable people during a global pandemic, and so many lives are at stake.

Bangladesh. January 2021. The pandemic is closely monitored in the camp, which has limited health facilities compared to the population it caters to. ©Olivier Laban-Mattei/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Strategic funding from the EU has filled this gap. EU contributions totalling €24.5 million in 2021 provide much-needed humanitarian aid for refugees like Jaan and her family. In partnership with the World Health Organization, the EU supports numerous programmes that directly limit the impact of COVID­19. Teaching people how to avoid getting sick, personal hygiene strategies — along with COVID-19 tests and treatment — are all critical in preventing viral transmission in the camps.

Bangladesh. January 2021. The pandemic is closely monitored in the camp, which has limited health facilities compared to the population it caters to. ©Olivier Laban-Mattei/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.
Jani (on the right) had to flee Myanmar with his siblings. He works for a EU-funded NGO that provides psychosocial support to the community. ©Olivier Laban-Mattei/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Jaan is 18 years old. She is an orphan and a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar. Jaan takes care of a disabled brother and two sisters in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh where they now live. Unable to work and take care of her siblings at the same time, she relies on EU humanitarian aid to stay alive.

Jaan rubs oil on the legs of her disabled brother. ©Olivier Laban-Mattei/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Jaan and her siblings are among the more than 860,000 Rohingya refugees who have poured into Bangladesh from Mynammar. They are fleeing the brutal violence against them by Myanmar’s government. Tens of thousands of people have been killed.

Jaan and two of her sisters pose for the photograph in Kutapalong mega camp, Bangladesh. January 2021. ©Olivier Laban-Mattei/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

When the Rohingya arrive at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazaar, they are tired, traumatised, and desperate. Many of them have lost family members in the killings in Myanmar, or while fleeing. The scale of need among the people at Kutupalong is devastating.

When the coronavirus arrived in 2020, things got even worse.

Although they have escaped the daily discrimination, threats to their security and fierce discrimination in Myanmar, the Rohingya in Bangladesh live in a state of constant risk. The burden of the pandemic on nearby communities and the country threatens the very essential services that these people rely on.

Working closely with local authorities in the country, EU humanitarian funding ensures these services remain strong. This helps the Rohingya and the local communities while also reducing the impact of the pandemic, far beyond the country’s borders.

A young Rohingya refugee girl from Kutupalong camp in southern Bangladesh plays with her younger brother on Jan. 24, 2021. ©Olivier Laban-Mattei/MYOP. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

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