How has coronavirus affected these camps?
When this Covid-19 outbreak began we talked about how it’s going to be catastrophic if it spread in the camps. But the number of cases in the camps in six months is just under 100. The Bangladeshi government, the UN, and charities like Tearfund have been carrying out an intensive response. We are raising awareness of the virus through leaflets in the local Rohingya language and talking to people. We’re also trying to continue with our work to build toilets, wells and sewage systems to help improve hygiene. This has helped to protect most people so far.
Do you think that it is primarily this intervention by the government, UN and charities like Tearfund that’s helped to keep the number of coronavirus cases down?
I would say definitely it has contributed to it. Unless somebody created that awareness and provided those hygiene and sanitation materials, continuously educating people on social distancing and cleanliness and all those things, they wouldn't have known what's happening and the dangers of coronavirus.
All the efforts of the humanitarian agencies, combined with the cooperation and the willingness of the people to receive and to practice this guidance, has led to a good result so far. Looking at the small number of cases in the camps many people in the humanitarian sector are saying this is either a miracle or a mystery.
So, what do you think? Is it a miracle or a mystery?
To me it still remains a mystery, because we all thought the numbers would be higher. But you know we cannot say for certain. Obviously the number of tests that are done in the camps are very limited, and we only have the number of cases that are being officially reported.
Looking at those camps and the crowded situation people are in, and the limitations on social distancing, it's a mystery how this has not spread like wildfire. But in another sense I would also say if the figures are true, then it's a miracle. It's a miracle, definitely.
While there is a reason to celebrate this, we must not become complacent and sit back. We must continue to intensify our efforts to help the Rohingya people fight the pandemic. I praise God and thank all of Tearfund’s supporters for their continued prayers and support for this.
How is morale for the Rohingya people in these camps, three years into this crisis?
This crisis has been overwhelming. They have scars both physical and psychological. And yet people are developing the resilience to continue to live, to continue to survive. They do appreciate the support that is being received, but of course the needs are huge.
How sustainable is it to live in these camps?
To live in the camps is not sustainable. I would not recommend anyone to live in the camps for a lifetime. No refugee should continue to be a refugee for a lifetime. They should have a life with dignity not always needing to look to somebody to support them. To restore human dignity is what is needed. People need to get settled – to have the freedom to study, to have the freedom to work and earn a living with dignity. This is what people want.
This crisis is not going to end in the next year or two. It will continue to be there for the next several years. How long? I can't say. But it's not going to end in the near future.