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Report: VOA News
Translator: Mohammed Idris Abullah (Cox’s Bazar)
Topic: Facing COVID-19 in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp, Young Rohingya Help Prepare for an Outbreak.
Summary: Until a few weeks ago, many of the prayers were made at a local mosque, one of the few safe havens for this displaced community of Rohingya Muslims living in Cox’s Bazar, on Bangladesh’s sandy southeast coast. But the mosques and schools are now closed, as the threat of the novel coronavirus creeps closer to this vulnerable, tightly packed group. The first case was confirmed within the local community last month, and the number of cases is growing. “We’re very much on borrowed time,” said Athena Rayburn, Save the Children’s humanitarian advocacy manager in Cox’s Bazar. There are around a million displaced people here, and nearly half of them are children. The majority are Rohingya refugee families from Myanmar who fled their homes after waves of brutal, military-led violence — an attempt described by both the U.S. and U.N. as “ethnic cleansing” — documented in the FRONTLINE film Myanmar’s Killing Fields. Robi, who was reached by audio call on WhatsApp, asked to be identified by a nickname for fear of reprisals. “It is very tough in the refugee camp,” said Robi, who is in his late 20s. The district where he lives with his parents and 15-year-old sister is now locked down, he said, with police restricting movement between neighborhoods. “It has become very difficult to even go to the market for vegetables,” he said. “People are suffering.” In late March, in a bid to stem the spread of the virus, the government restricted camp access to more than 100 aid agencies working there. Now, only frontline workers deemed critical are being allowed in. They’re providing food and some medical aid, Rayburn said, but the services “are not currently sufficient to treat an outbreak.” Young Rohingya like Robi has been trying to help their community prepare for what’s coming. One day, after praying at home and eating breakfast, he joined a group of young people who had voluntarily assembled blue plastic-wrapped packages of medical supplies, including masks, plastic gloves, soap, antiseptics, and enough fever-fighting medicine to last a week. They bought the supplies using donations from friends, their families and individuals from the aid community who they approached to fund their work. Walking down dusty laneways, beside low-slung shelters made from plastic tarps and bamboo, Robi and his “boys” carried cardboard boxes of supplies through the camp.
They wore latex gloves and their own brightly colored facemasks, handing out packages and fitting masks on older men and women as curious children crowded close. They’re only a few dozen young men going door-to-door talking about hand washing and social distancing — in an encampment where crossing even one of the 34 makeshift camps can take days. “Hopefully people will trust us and they will follow our instructions,” Robi said. “It is a very important time, and we know that this emergency is the time to come forward to help.” Right now, all they have is information to distribute, as they recently ran out of supplies and funding; Robi says they’re trying to raise more. Louise Donovan, communications officer for the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said there