Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis: Covid-19 — [Dame Rosie Winterton in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:07 am on 3rd November 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:07 am, 3rd November 2020

It is a pleasure to see you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was surprised when I walked through the door. I had to screw up my eyes and say, “My goodness, you have come back to us.” Thank you very much. It is lovely to see you.

I thank Jeremy Corbyn and Sir Peter Bottomley for setting the scene, which was admirably done. One of the first debates the right hon. Gentleman and I had in Westminster Hall was on human rights, although not the Rohingya. He introduced the debate, and I was there to support him. It is good that we are on the same page on this issue, as we often have been and probably always will be when it comes to human rights across the world.

The suffering that the Rohingya refugees have had to endure is scarcely imaginable. Everything that right hon. and hon. Members have said, and will say after me, encapsulates the fact that the Rohingya have survived horrifying violence, been driven from their homes and been forced to live in squalid conditions in refugee camps. People could be forgiven for thinking that things could not get any worse, and yet here we are with a global pandemic, adding still more to their burden.

Our duty in this House is to speak up for those who do not have a voice. Maybe we will never meet them, but we can familiarise ourselves with their circumstances and conditions and try to help them. I look forward to the Minister’s response, as we often do, and today we have three things to ask of him.

I am pleased to see the shadow Minister, Preet Kaur Gill, in her place. She and I are good friends, and I look forward to her contribution, as well as that of Kirsten Oswald, the spokesperson for the Scottish National party.

Fortunately, data for the Rohingya refugee camps currently shows that the number of cases of covid-19 is lower than anticipated, although I question where that data came from. The restrictions put in place on humanitarian agencies by the Bangladeshi Government to isolate Rohingya refugees are having a devastating effect, and I would suggest that the data is not available, primarily because of the restrictions in place. The restrictions placed on organisations permit them to do only certain types of work or to do it only in a certain way, and they are allowed into the camps only for a set number of hours—in some cases, they are not allowed in at all. If the data cannot be collected, any data will be suspect and will not be correct.

The report by the ACAPS and the International Organisation for Migration stated that the “drastic reduction” in humanitarian access and the

“decreased ability to implement critical services has led to an increase in unmet needs. Many Rohingya have been unable to fortify their homes against rain and windstorms because shelter-related service restrictions meant that monsoon preparedness activities were not completed… Additionally, common coping mechanisms, such as increasing debt, borrowing assistance from family or neighbours… were reported as less effective than in previous periods, more difficult to access, or unavailable because of the changes due to COVID-19. As a result, many families feel desperate and uncertain about their future.”

The impact of these restrictions has been so great that, in July, many Rohingya perceived the impact of covid-19 containment measures as being a greater threat to their overall wellbeing than covid-19 itself. We cannot ignore that. Hopefully, the Minister will be able to alleviate some of our fears for the Rohingya people at this time and tell us where they stand.

Many acknowledge the risk of covid-19, but it is secondary to more immediate risks, such as shelters collapsing. People must also have safe and accessible toilets and be able to feed their families. These myriad issues come upon people quickly, and they are bread-and-butter issues. Those of us that have a comparatively good life here, with access to such things, may take them for granted, but these people do not, and we want to see what is happening. The Government have taken steps, and I always acknowledge that, because it is fair to give them credit for that, but perhaps the Minister can give us an idea of what, specifically, has been done for the Rohingya, in the precarious conditions and circumstances they face.