Origin of Rohingya coronavirus: Myanmar or Bangladesh?

Bangladesh and Myanmar are at odds over the origin of two coronavirus cases confirmed among the latter’s Rohingya community.

The dispute started when Myanmar’s Health Ministry confirmed that two Rohingya men — a Muslim and a Hindu — had tested positive for COVID-19 in the country.

Bangladesh rejects claim that they are origin of Rohingya coronavirus cases

Some media outlets in Myanmar, citing local lawmakers, reported that both men had recently returned from the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh, home to more than 1 million Rohingya refugees.

However, on Tuesday, Dhaka rejected the reports as “totally false and baseless.”

Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s commissioner for refugees, relief, and repatriation, said the claim was a continuation of Myanmar’s “fabricated speeches.”

“This is completely wrong and inaccurate information. No Rohingya has returned to Myanmar from Bangladesh in the past few years,” he said.

He said such a journey would be particularly hard right now due to the coronavirus restrictions imposed in Rohingya camps.

“It’s quite impossible for any Rohingya person to go from Bangladesh to Myanmar amid the virus restrictions,” said Talukder.

First Rohingya coronavirus fatality in Bangladesh

A 71-year-old man became the first Rohingya living in vast refugee camps in Bangladesh to die from the coronavirus, an official said Tuesday.

Read more: First Rohingya coronavirus casualty reported in Bangladesh

Health experts have long warned that the deadly virus could race through the vast network of settlements housing almost a million refugees in the country’s southeast.

“He died on May 31. But last night we got the confirmation that he died of COVID-19,” said Toha Bhuiyan, a senior health official in the Cox’s Bazar district.

The fatality was in Kutupalong, the largest of the camps, which is home to roughly 600,000 people. The man was among at least 29 Rohingya to have tested positive for the virus in the camps.

“We are going to speak to administrators in the camp and alert people about the death,” Bhuiyan said, adding they were trying to find people the deceased had been in contact with.

On June 4, Myanmar said a Rohingya man who tested positive for COVID-19 was admitted to a hospital in Maungdaw, a town near its western border with Bangladesh.

Bangladesh believes Rohingya brought coronavirus from Myanmar

Soe Aung, district administrator for Maungdaw, said the 38-year-old patient was among five Rohingya people who returned to Rakhine state from Bangladesh on May 30, according to local online website Narinjara.

Then, late on Monday, the Health Ministry said a 25-year-old Rohingya Hindu man was confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.

“Villagers said he arrived alone on June 3. Some people who have come into contact with him have also been shifted to a quarantine site for 21 days,” Aung said on Tuesday.

The origin of Rohingya’s coronavirus cases is still disputed between both countries, which have a stark difference in terms of total cases.

Myanmar has a total of 244 cases, including six deaths and 159 recoveries, while Bangladesh’s overall count is at 71,675, with 975 deaths and over 15,300 recoveries.

Rohingya Muslims displaced at sea after Myanmar brutalities

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a brutal crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, bringing the number of the persecuted people in Bangladesh to above 1.2 million.

Although a plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees has stalled, Myanmar in April claimed that more than 600 Rohingya had returned from Bangladesh of their own volition.

In a statement last week, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen accused Myanmar of not accepting a single Rohingya person in the last three years since the community’s August 2017 exodus.

In what the United Nations (UN) has referred to as a risky ‘sport of human ping pong’, the displaced Rohingyas at sea are oscillating from one country to another in hopes of gaining entry to Malaysia or Thailand since February this year. While some were rescued by the coast guard when the boats had returned to Bangladesh in mid-April and early May, the apprehensions remained that more such trawlers are still at sea being denied access owing to the COVID19 scare.

The few hundreds of displaced Rohingyas rescued were severely emaciated, dehydrated and could barely walk due to a shortage of food and water. Several of them had died in the boat and their bodies were disposed off at sea.

Rohingya: the most persecuted minority in the world 

After Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948, the state authorities refused to recognize the Rohingya identity – a name adopted by a group of the descendants of both Arakan State Muslims and later migrants to Burma. The Rohingya were excluded from the Myanmar constitution and in 1982, Myanmar passed a citizenship law that denied the Rohingya people citizenship.

Read more: Rohingya arrive in Malaysia and are detained

To this day, the Rohingya are considered non-citizens and illegal immigrants. Not being recognized under the law, they lack basic rights such as access to social services or education, and their movement outside of Rakhine State is closely restricted. Myanmar has also imposed strict regulations that restrict the Rohingya from marrying and having children.

Anadolu with additional input by GVS News Desk

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