UNHCR Representative Steven Corliss has extolled Bangladesh for its ‘decisive action’ to slow down the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the world’s most densely populated refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar where Rohingyas live.
“I want to congratulate the RRRC (government’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner) for taking very decisive action with our full support to limit the critical activities. This is very logical,” he said at a virtual discussion on Sunday.
“We wanted to limit the exposure of people inside the camp to the people outside the camps. By doing that we slowed the transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that this allowed all to be prepared to face the pandemic in the camps.
He was speaking at the Center for Research and Information (CRI) flagship ‘Let’s Talk’ event on ‘Rohingya Response and COVID-19’.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, and RRRC Mahbub Alam Talukder also spoke at the virtual discussion, among others, moderated by Showvik Das Tamal.
The government sheltered over 1.1 million Myanmar nationals who fled ethnic cleansing. Myanmar did not take back any of them despite signing deals with Bangladesh more than two years back.
This created an extra pressure for the government which is grappling with the pandemic like other countries in the world.
The foreign secretary said the pandemic also slowed down the process of repatriation.
“We have bilateral arrangement and mechanisms. But Covid19 slowed it down. We are trying to expedite the process. We are in touch. But our main focus is now to tackle the present crisis,” he said.
He, however, expressed his concern over the clearance operation in Rakhine State and said such instability could hurt the confidence of the Rohingyas to return to their motherland. The RRRC said they could prevent the virus for three months in the camps through different preventive measures.
“We recorded the first death on May 31 and so far, there are only five deaths. We could prevent it for three months. It’s because of our efforts. We have been working taking UN agencies and NGOs with us. We have translated the awareness messages into their (Rohingyas) languages so that they can understand.
“We have supplied health kits apart from giving health counselling. All the concerned officials at 34 camps were actively monitoring the situation,” he said.
The camps now have isolation centers and treatment facilities. Besides, the UN agencies helped set up ICU for both Rohingyas and local host communities.
Two RT-PCR machines have been installed for increasing the number of testing.
“We are not afraid. We’re well prepared and we’re ready to face anything,” he said, thanking all for their support.
The UNHCR representative also acknowledged the developments and said the preparations are ‘visible’.
“Few months ago, we were racing against time. We won that race – the first part. Today RRRC said we have more beds available. But we should not be complacent. The number is increasing each day,” he said.