Refugees, Bangladesh and Covid-19

Rohingya refugees have always been a topic of controversy at every bengali varsity graduated household’s dinner table. Back in their early migratory period, the prime minister gave interviews about taking care of them, the typical muslim heart cried for their pain, we demanded a Nobel prize for the PM and as usual Bengali middle class took great pride in “feeling proud” about their almost Singapore of a country.

But as time & tide rolled by, and these poor refugees started reeking havoc within the country (I don’t blame them). Chopping down forests, trying to get fake passports, smuggling drugs from Burma, basically anything they can to survive. Within a matter of days, all that bengali sentiment- evaporated like mercury.

And then covid 19 came. It was march 16th, I had made up my mind to close up all three of my earning sources the next day, pay my employees and send them home before intercity buses got grounded. Distraught at home, a vice article popped up on my feed.

“We need to be realistic: It would be impossible to contain an outbreak in such camp settings.” The article said.

Bangladeshi refugees, 1971
Source: Bangladesh Liberation War Museum
Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka.

Should we not worry about the refugee camps? “We’ll lock them in”, a typical Bengali bigot would say. In response, I say let’s look at a case shall we. The case of Singapore, the country Bangladesh was one step away from becoming.

Despite Singapore’s early vigilance in addressing the pandemic—including extensive contact tracing—the government’s response had a blind spot. The key to what happened lies in how Singapore, a country of 5.8 million people, has treated its 1 million migrant workers. These migrants lived in conditions similar to refugees and when the time came they were obviously unable to stay quarantined.

Singapore, between Jan. 23 and March 23, reported fewer than 510 known cases of COVID-19.
On April 25th, Singapore had more than 11,000.

Yesterday, Rohingya refugee camps recorded their first covid 19 positive patient. There’s over a million of them stuck inside the camps, of whom almost 650,000 live in Kutupalong, believed to be the world’s largest refugee camp. It is here in Kutupalong, Cox’s bazar where the first refugee covid 19 case has been detected.

A million souls face apocalypse wrapped up in a political limbo. An entire population, treated like the unplanned child of teenaged parents. Bangladesh and Myanmar- acting like the underaged underdeveloped angry parents, pushing the child onto each other’s shoulders, wishing it would just simply disappear.

Refugees in Kutupalong are crowded into an area of approximately 13 square kilometers, a population density of more than 40,000 per square kilometer. More than half of the refugees are children. Doctors and volunteers going in and out the camps risk being super carriers, people living nearby risk getting infected. What happens when these sick and/or asymptomatic refugees come out of the camps, just like the migrants of Singapore? Is locking up everything, the only answer we have? Lock up the poor, lock up the refugees, lock up every problem somewhere as we bury our heads into the sand and drink dalgona coffee.

We sit on a giant barrel of dynamite named kutupalong, and the fuse has just been lit.

Buddhist monk Wirathu, dubbed the “Buddhist Bin Laden”,speaks during a rally to show support to the Myanmar military in Yangon. (Sai Aung Main / AFP Photo)

Back in march 16th 2020, I instinctively broke out into a rant on Facebook:-

…These people are going to suffer, they’re going to die. May be the scientists will discover a cure, may be we will all receive vaccinations. But these people will not. They’re humanity’s collective shame, swept under the rug. Government, borders, education, citizenry, journalism, human rights watch – all our world’s “factors of power” failed them long before it failed us. Us, cozy in our homes, browsing internet in our phones. Even if there is a cure they’ll die because it will never reach them.

And may be after all this is over. You’ll find someone telling you, “we didn’t have enough vaccines or PPEs or ventilators left over to send to the camps. We had to treat others first”. And when you find this someone, let me know. So I can punch em in the throat with a brass knuckle.

“They were a necessary sacrifice”
No, the fuck they were not.


I realize I sounded extremely naive. Naive because I thought, we would only sacrifice the refugees.

During the early days of the republic, the Roman army stood for battle in a formation called the triplex aces. The first lines of the aces were called the hastati. As the enemy cut down through the hastati they faced the second lines called the Principes. And finally came the last lines, the triarii. When that line was cut down, the general and his elites fled the battle field. It was the triarii’s job to hold the enemy long enough so that the elites can run away from the battle field.

Dear bengali varsity graduated households, how long will you voluntarily play the role of the triarii?

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