TACOMA, Washington — Cramped living quarters, unsanitary living conditions and hoards of strangers constantly huddled together at any given moment is a breeding ground for COVID-19. These conditions make the Rohingya some of the most vulnerable refugees during COVID-19.
The Rohingya are an ethnic minority from Bengal who has lived in the Rakhine state of Myanmar for generations. However, they do not have any sort of recognition as citizens or permanent residents, and due to this perpetual alien status, they have no access to proper infrastructure for employment, education and healthcare services, among others. As a result, many of them live in communities or settlements entrenched in poverty.
Additionally, Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country, and the Rakhine Buddhist population condemns living within proximity of the Muslim Rohingyas. In fact, there have been outright attacks. The September 2017 massacre of 10 Muslim men set the precedence for heightened conflict between the two groups with vastly oppositional ideologies.
Rohingya Muslim villages have been bulldozed, and government officials and administration deny there ever having been previous Muslim settlements. The Rohingya have been forcibly displaced for years on end, but 2017 was a turning point with around one million fleeing the country during a Myanmar military intervention.
History repeats itself as the Rohingya are having to seek refuge as refugees. However, this time in the neighboring country of Bangladesh. The Cox’s Bazar district is home to around 900,000 refugees. Impromptu, makeshift settlements were created to accommodate the mass influx of refugees.
Unfortunately, these settlements do not provide much foundation or stability. Most of the living quarters are made from bamboo and plastic tarps, while being settled on uneven hills, providing little-to-no protection during the monsoon season. The rainy season brings floodings, landslides, leakages and wearing of the bamboo and plastic, leading to the overall demolition of some tents.