Opinion: In the shadow of a pandemic, Rohingya challenge our ideas about refugees


A few decades ago this week, that is accurately what hundreds of thousands of traumatized Rohingya had to do.

I don’t forget seeing with horror images of Rohingya households fleeing Myanmar, trudging barefoot by means of rice fields, their life on their backs, leaving behind their residences, their livelihoods, their lifeless, the buddies and beloved ones as well aged, much too weak, or much too overwhelmed, to comply with. They reached the border exhausted, hurt, traumatized, and in require of urgent care.

Nonetheless even as I compose this, I am aware that as well a lot of refugee stories focus on trauma and escape. Much too frequently in the community consciousness, a refugee is a susceptible, helpless particular person fleeing violence and in determined require of rescue. That is an incomplete telling of the story and further injustice to its protagonists. Although refugees do in reality have to have security, they are outlined considerably less by their position as beneficiaries of treatment than by their unfathomable braveness, resilience, and drive for self-reliance.

This is genuine of each refugee group I have frequented, be it Syrians or Afghans or South Sudanese, and it is certainly accurate of the Rohingya. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Myanmar, who regardless of residing in the nation for generations, have not been afforded the exact legal rights as its citizens and who have been forced to flee persecution several periods about the many years.
From the outset, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh took critical management roles in the humanitarian reaction to their possess suffering. With assist from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Company, and NGO associates, they formed a group-centered safety design, giving fellow refugees the possibility to have a measure of management about their personal lives and master new capabilities. The design gave company to all customers of the Rohingya local community.
That was before the coronavirus pandemic struck. The outbreak of Covid-19 has witnessed an 80% reduction of humanitarian staff in the camps. The position of the Rohingya refugee group volunteers has thus turn out to be even additional necessary. As a former health practitioner, I am in awe of the refugee community overall health personnel who have rolled up their sleeves and volunteered to fulfill the needs of their neighborhood. They have worked jointly to lower the threat of viral transmission and, provided the situation, it is nothing at all brief of inspiring.
Take 19-12 months-aged Salma, for occasion. She is a neighborhood wellness volunteer in the overcrowded Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. A lot more than 600,000 men and women live in an location of just 13 sq. kilometers, five square miles infrastructure and providers are stretched to their restrictions.

Just before the pandemic, she took section in a cross-generational volunteer method –fifty percent of which is comprised of girls and women- to present health assistance, like pre- and put up-natal treatment for women of all ages and infants in the camp. But in latest months, she has shifted her tasks to the Covid-19 reaction. Joined by additional than 1,400 others, Salma now encourages hand washing and cleanliness. She educates the group on how the virus spreads, how to identify indications and seek treatment, as nicely as guaranteeing that those who exhibit signs are analyzed.

Inspite of the issues of dwelling in a densely populated refugee camp, Salma and fellow volunteers have built a lifesaving distinction in their local community. By the finish of July, there ended up fewer than 100 verified Covid-19 cases amid the Rohingya refugee populace of about 860,000. I find this incredibly poignant, due to the fact it does not just take a great deal of a leap to see how Salma’s do the job, halfway all-around the world, is in point essential to the wellbeing and safety of my individual household right here in The usa. For one particular detail we have all acquired in this pandemic is that nobody is risk-free from this virus until finally all of us are.

I am moved and encouraged by the resilience of the Rohingya refugees. They are survivors. They escaped unspeakable horrors, made the extensive, painful journey to Bangladesh, and overcame the lots of hardships of everyday living in the camps. They carry on to show strength in sustaining hope and a commitment to heading home yet again, against all odds. And now, each individual day, beneath the shadow of a pandemic, they are functioning, primary, therapeutic, and challenging our thought of “who a refugee is.”



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