Reporting the coronavirus at a Rohingya camp: ′Saving lives is now the most important task′ | Asia | DW | 08.04.2020
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Reporting the coronavirus at a Rohingya camp: 'Saving lives is now the most important task'

A community radio station is working to inform the Rohingya in a refugee camp in Bangladesh about the coronavirus through reports over the loudspeaker and special broadcasts. The production conditions are a challenge.

A rickshaw brings the information about the coronavirus to the people in the camp via loudspeaker

A rickshaw brings the information about the coronavirus to the people in the camp via loudspeaker

The loudspeaker cracks. It is mounted on a motor rickshaw that drives through the Rohingya camp and is loudly playing a traditional song with lyrics about the novel coronavirus. It is also broadcasting instructions on how to wash one's hands properly and further information about Covid-19, a lung disease caused by the virus. A local citizen radio station, Radio Naf, produced these loudspeaker reports with the support of the DW Akademie.

Local citizen radio station Radio Naf produces informative reports that are broadcasted from a rickshaw, called a Miking

Local citizen radio station Radio Naf produces informative reports that are broadcasted from a rickshaw, called a "Miking"

"Our formats are short, easy to understand, entertaining and solution-oriented. The information can be vital for the people in the refugee camp and the surrounding area," said Mainul Khan, DW Akademie's trainer in Cox's Bazar.

DW Akademie and Radio Naf have been working with young Rohingya and locals from villages near the refugee camp since 2018. Volunteers receive training and create stories from the camp for the weekly radio show "Palonger Hota" ("Voice of Palong").

Camps still officially corona-free

Currently, Bangladesh reports only 164 officially confirmed corona-infections and 17 corona-induced deaths in the country (as of 07.04.2020, Institute for Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research). However, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that refugees in camps are particularly at risk. If the coronavirus spreads in what is now the world's largest refugee camp with around one million inhabitants, a humanitarian catastrophe would be imminent.

"The people there live in appalling conditions, in tiny huts, and often the supply of clean water is a problem. When the virus gets there, I don't even want to imagine the consequences," said Khan.

The people in the refugee camp near the city of Cox's Bazar live crowded together in huts. Social distancing is almost impossible here

The people in the refugee camp near the city of Cox's Bazar live crowded together in huts. "Social distancing" is almost impossible here

The camp has been overcrowded for a long time, and "social distancing" is extremely difficult. Officials are now scrambling to expand medical care in the camp but whether this will be enough is questionable. Beds are not the only supplies missing in treatment facilities. There is a general lack of equipment and personnel. Aid organizations are distributing soap and trying to ensure the water supply for everyone in the camp. If the virus does arrive, there is no escape for the Rohingya as the inhabitants are officially not allowed to leave the camp.

Fighting fear and insecurity

The loudspeaker broadcasts are intended to inform. About 70 percent of the Rohingya are considered illiterate so radio formats are therefore popular not only in times of crisis.

"We radio specialists now have a special responsibility. Access to information via other communication channels is difficult for the people in the refugee camp and the surrounding villages," said Khan.

Informing the people in the camp without causing panic is now the top priority for the makers of "Palonger Hota." The radio show will continue to be produced and broadcast, currently with a focus on topics concerning the coronavirus or Covid-19. "We are now producing our third special broadcast," said Khan.

In addition to providing information on hygiene, "coughing etiquette" and social distancing to prevent the virus from spreading, there are also plans to address sensitive topics such as mental health and stigmatization. They are also preparing reports on how to deal with the dead and what a dignified funeral can look like.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, the volunteers in the camps conducted interviews for their radio reports. This is no longer possible

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, the volunteers in the camps conducted interviews for their radio reports. This is no longer possible

Informing under difficult conditions

Bangladesh is now under a strict curfew. The reports from the volunteers and their family members are recorded over the telephone and sent via the internet to the producer in the city.

"Even in Cox's Bazar City, we are not allowed to leave our accommodation," said Khan. "The roads to the camp are closed, we cannot drive to our training room and meet our volunteers in person. They are also stuck in their huts in the camp or in the houses in the village, they cannot conduct interviews outside. All this is a real nightmare."

This is because internet access in and around the Rohingya camp has been extremely limited for about eight months now. Information is not only difficult to get out of the camp, but also difficult to get in.

"We want to educate everyone in the camp and in the immediate vicinity about the dangers of the coronavirus," said Khan. "Saving lives is now the most important task for us and our partners."

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