Since fleeing from brutal persecution in Myanmar, almost one million Rohingya Muslims have been living in densely packed refugee camps in Bangladesh. Now they face a new threat in the coronavirus, and a draconian lockdown by their reluctant hosts isn’t helping
At the end of last week, over 250 starving and dehydrated Rohingya were plucked off a boat adrift in the Bay of Bengal by the Bangladeshi coastguards. This, like other such rusty old vessels, had been criss-crossing the seas in search of somewhere to land, only to be refused at every turn by South-East Asian nations such as Malaysia. The Rohingya’s ordeal lasted for weeks and, unfortunately, is far from over. The Bangadeshi authorities merely dumped them on a remote island, Bhasan Char, claiming that this would be a safe quarantine for them.
Bangladesh, of course, is where these Rohingya set out from in the first place. They were trying to escape from forced confinement in the densely packed refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh’s slender finger of land pointing down the coast of Myanmar, whence they fled a murderous campaign of ethnic-cleansing by the country’s army in 2017.
The plight of these 250 Rohingya comes on top of recent similar episodes, highlighting the increasing sense of despair in the camps. In mid-April, about 400 emaciated Rohingya were picked up by the Bangladesh coast guard and handed to the UN. They had also been refused entry to Malaysia, they said, three times. About 30 had died at sea.