Older Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are the most at risk from the novel coronavirus and the least included in the humanitarian response to the pandemic, Amnesty International has said.
It alleged “dangerous lack of access to even basic information and repeated mistakes” during the humanitarian response in a statement on Monday.
Bangladesh, together with the UN and other humanitarian partners, has made efforts to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading to the camps outside Cox’s Bazar.
These include a decision to increase COVID-19-specific assistance, stop large gatherings, and order preventative measures.
“But basic, accurate information about the illness and measures to prevent its spread is failing to reach many people in the camps, and especially older people, as the humanitarian response pays insufficient attention to their specific needs,” the London-based human rights group said.
“At the best of times, humanitarian organisations struggle or fail to meet the specific needs of older people in refugee and displacement camps. Repeating this same mistake amid the COVID-19 pandemic puts older Rohingya women and men in imminent danger – with some of them not even receiving the most basic information about what is happening and how they can best stay safe,” it quoted Matt Wells, Crisis Response Deputy Director – Thematic Issues at Amnesty International, as saying.
“Donor countries and humanitarian organisations should urgently work together to remedy this lack of accessible information and implement a plan to ensure that older refugees are not left behind yet again in this time of elevated global risk,”
The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR indicates there are more than 31,500 refugees age 60 or older in the camps, among the almost 860,000 Rohingyas forced to flee Myanmar, most of them since late 2017 as a result of crimes the UN has said likely amount to genocide.
MISTAKES BEING REPEATED
Amnesty International said it released a report on the impact of conflict and displacement on older people in Myanmar in June last year.
It examined how, in the Bangladesh refugee camps, the humanitarian response has failed to respect older people’s rights to health, food, water, and sanitation. Many problems stem from not including older people’s views and inputs and from not considering their needs and risks when designing assistance.
“These same mistakes are being repeated with the COVID-19 response, despite all medical evidence demonstrating that older people are one of the most at-risk populations,” the organisation said.
Most of the older people interviewed by Amnesty International had received little specific information about COVID-19, according to the statement.
“Before large gatherings were barred and preventative measures like social distancing ordered, there were some informational meetings in the camps, but many older people were not informed.”
Amnesty International said the older people it had interviewed had heard little detail other than the virus was very dangerous and they needed to “live clean”.
It suggested formation of networks of Rohingya volunteers who can go shelter-to-shelter to bring older people information and to hear from older people about how to best prepare a response that meets their needs.
Volunteers should be carefully trained to ensure they do not expose older people to infection, including by maintaining as much distance as possible during shelter visits.
Critical information that should be prioritized includes a clear understanding of COVID-19 symptoms and preventative measures.
Most older people interviewed by Amnesty International knew, for example, that sanitation was important, but associated it primarily with washing hands after using the toilet and before eating; and not allowing children to play in dirty areas.
“Donors, the UN, and humanitarian organizations must further act urgently to ensure older people can put preventative measures into practice, including by ensuring older people have access to sufficient water and sanitation infrastructure – addressing the specific challenges faced by older people living alone and older people with limited mobility, among others,” Amnesty International said.