Leading Jewish Global Human Rights Group Warns of COVID-19’s Danger to Rohingya People, Calls On U.S. to Act

American Jewish World Service gravely concerned that hundreds of thousands are in peril

Tracey Gurd, Senior Director of Civil and Political Rights and Advocacy for American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading global Jewish human rights organization, issued the following statement as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to spread to refugee camps in Bangladesh and internally displaced camps in Myanmar (also called Burma), endangering the Rohingya people who live there. The Rohingya are an ethnic and religious minority group from Myanmar who have been under attack by their own government for decades, culminating in genocidal violence in August 2017 that forced more than 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh.

“The threat of COVID-19 reveals the deep vulnerabilities of more than a million Rohingya people who — after escaping genocidal violence by their own government in Myanmar — now live in dire conditions in camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The United States government needs to use its diplomatic clout to urge immediate action by both Bangladesh and Myanmar to prevent COVID-19 from being even more devastating on this already marginalized community.

“Because of an internet blackout in the Bangladesh camps, the Rohingya community cannot get online to access accurate information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Tracey Gurd, Senior Director for Civil and Political Rights and Advocacy at American Jewish World Service. “Medical assistance is limited in both Bangladesh and Myanmar for the Rohingya people – and, in Myanmar, humanitarian workers cannot even access the camps there with desperately needed supplies.”

“This is a ticking time-bomb threatening even more horrifying outcomes for a community that has already suffered through a genocide,” added Gurd.

The United States government, which has an outsized influence on both Myanmar and Bangladesh, has a crucial role. It must act to prevent and mitigate this impending crisis. It should:

  • Use all the U.S. government’s diplomatic tools and channels to persuade:
    • The government of Bangladesh: To lift internet bans that prevent the Rohingya community in Bangladesh from getting the lifesaving information they need about how to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19;
    • The government of Myanmar: To allow unfettered humanitarian access to all displaced communities, including other ethnic minorities, vulnerable to COVID-19 in the country; and
    • The U.S. Congress should include humanitarian aid specifically for the Rohingya community in camps in both Bangladesh and Myanmar in any upcoming COVID-19 international aid package

About American Jewish World Service’s work in Burma

For more than 17 years, AJWS has supported the human rights of ethnic minorities in Burma, including the Rohingya people. AJWS provides direct financial support to more than 30 human rights organizations in Burma that have been working to advance the rights of minority ethnic groups and create a truly pluralistic and democratic society. Please read more about our work in Burma here.

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