Bangladesh confirms 1st death of Rohingya from coronavirus

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (AP) — Authorities in Bangladesh have confirmed the first death of a Rohingya refugee from the coronavirus, as infections rise in sprawling camps where more than one million Rohingya have been living since fleeing from neighbouring Myanmar.

The 71-year-old refugee died on Saturday at Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar, and samples collected from him tested positive on Monday, said Chief Health Coordinator of the office of the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abu Toha M R Bhuiyan.

The man died in an isolation centre set up by the government and aid agencies where he had been admitted with COVID-19 symptoms a week earlier. Louise Donovan, a spokeswoman for the United Nations (UN) refugee agency, said at least 29 Rohingya refugees have tested positive for the disease.

With about 40,000 people per square kilometre, the 34 refugee camps have more than 40 times Bangladesh’s average population density. Each shack is barely 10 square metres and many are packed with up to 12 residents. Aid agencies and government officials said the challenge of handling a wide outbreak of the virus could be huge.

Authorities in Myanmar consider Rohingya to be migrants from Bangladesh, even though their families have lived in Myanmar for decades. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights, including education.

Most of the Rohingya in the camps fled Myanmar after August 2017, when Myanmar’s military launched clearance operations in response to attacks by a rebel group. Security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of homes.

A health worker from an aid organisation walks wearing a hazmat suit at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. PHOTO: AP