Three years ago, starting on August 25, 2017, Myanmar security forces launched a campaign of targeted violence that ultimately drove more than 700,000 Rohingya people out of their homes in Rakhine state and across the border into neighboring Bangladesh. Many of these refugees lost family members and friends during the attacks, saw their homes burned, and witnessed unthinkable atrocities. When they arrived at the camps in Cox’s Bazar, the refugees joined some 200,000 others who had fled previous attacks and were still living in precarious conditions.
After three years, conditions in the world’s largest refugee settlement have barely improved, and people are forced to live in overcrowded shelters. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) pediatrician Ferdyoli Porcel says poor living conditions in the camps makes this community more vulnerable to the spread of disease, including skin infections, parasite infections, respiratory infections, and severe pneumonia. Since COVID-19 arrived in the camps in May, the Rohingya have faced even more challenges: fewer medical personnel and services, restricted movements, and stigma in the community around the new disease, which makes people afraid to come for care. With no sense of when they will be able to safely return to their country, many Rohingya people feel like their lives are on hold.