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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:17 am on 3rd November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work, Pensions and Inclusion), SNP Deputy Leader 10:17 am, 3rd November 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. The previous speakers have been crystal clear about the urgent nature of the situation. If it was not clear to us or pressing enough previously—obviously, it should have been—the covid-19 pandemic and the terrible price that it has wrought, especially among the most vulnerable, has confirmed once and for all that life in a refugee camp should never be considered an acceptable long-term plan.

Nobody would argue that the Rohingya community is not suffering disproportionately from this terrible virus. In fact, as far as we know—Jim Shannon made a sensible point about data—the death rate from covid-19 among the Rohingya refugees is 8%, compared with 2% for the Bangladeshi host community. Their situation, even on the basis of those figures, means a huge difference in outcome, in terms of life and death.

Amnesty International has spoken about a dangerous lack of access to even basic information. Mobile and internet services for the Rohingya were restored only in late August, and blackouts remain in Rakhine state. This is a hard time for those of us who are able to communicate and seek out potentially life-saving information, but what about people who cannot?

A huge issue is the inability to practise preventive measures such as frequent hand-washing in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. We rightly place much emphasis on the importance of hand-washing, but when we do so we are supposing that it is even an option. We all keep ourselves socially distant wherever we can, but with the population density in Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, for instance, social distancing is almost impossible. In fact, Relief International Cox’s Bazar programme director has described the situation there as a “ticking time bomb”.

Existing healthcare facilities are woefully inadequate to handle a severe crisis such as this: in the whole of Cox’s Bazar, there are only two ventilators. We already know that Bangladesh has one doctor for every 2,000 people, compared with one doctor for every 350 people in the UK. There is a woeful shortage of PPE, even before the other critical issues in purchasing PPE that we heard about from other Members.