In their own words: Surviving the lockdown in Bangladesh
Working with and through our local partners, we have been supporting older refugees and people living in the local community in Cox’s Bazar since 2017.
More than 900,000 Rohingya refugees currently live in 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the majority having fled violence in Myanmar in August 2017. They now face further hardship, with the lockdown and coronavirus affecting their ability to earn a living and resulting in reduced access to essentials like food and medicine. We spoke to two of the older people that our work is supporting in the area during the pandemic.
Zafor, 62, Anjumanpara village, near Cox’s Bazar
Zafor is a Bangladeshi living in the area near Cox’s Bazar. He has received hand sanitiser and soap from Age International’s partner in Bangladesh. Zafor usually earns about 500 Bangladeshi taka (6 USD) a day selling tea and biscuits. He is the sole breadwinner for his family of three and also pays for his son’s education. Due to the country-wide lockdown, Zafor has had to stop selling tea. He has not earned a single taka in more than two weeks since Bangladesh started to battle the coronavirus outbreak, which has seen more than 4,689 people (seven in Cox’s Bazar) infected. He said:
We might die of hunger before coronavirus, so how are we meant to stay alive?
Those who have adequate money in hand have gone into home quarantine to protect themselves along with their children from coronavirus. They have stocked up on essentials, including rice, lentils, edible oil, meat and fish in their homes. All of them along with their family members will be safe with enough stocks of sanitisers. Their children will be hale and hearty. But coronavirus is difficult for us who do daily labour to get by. We don’t have any savings; we’re not able to buy plenty of food, especially as food prices have gone up.
If the quarantine remains, we don’t know how we will get food.
Salim, 69, Ukhia, Cox’s Bazar
We also spoke to Salim, who lives with his wife, son and daughter in the refugee camp. He was born in Rakhine State, the western part of Myanmar.
What are your living conditions like?
To be honest, I am living a very helpless life. Four of us are living in this tiny house with a kitchen, sharing two beds. We have to share toilets and bathing facilities with too many people. There is a communal water tap which is quite difficult to get to, and now that is no longer possible.
Do you understand what COVID-19 is and how it can be contracted?
I got information about COVID 19 from the Age Friendly Space. It is a life-threatening virus which it can be contracted by contact with people who are infected. I should avoid gatherings and need to wash my hands frequently.
How did you hear the news about COVID-19?
I heard the news about COVID 19 from the Age Friendly Space where aid workers were relaying messages using a loud speaker. I am definitely worried about it as I have heard how it is spreading and infecting people. As we are living in such a crowded place, I am worried it will spiral out of control if anyone gets infected.
Do you feel that you have what is needed to prevent COVID-19, i.e clean water, soap etc.?
I have been provided with some hand sanitiser, liquid soap and disinfectant materials. However, it is not enough to last my family for a long time. We do not know how long this pandemic will last. So it would be good if humanitarian actors come forward with masks and gloves. With those, I might be able to go outside.
What are your main fears about COVID-19?
I heard that there are not enough healthcare facilities to cope with coronavirus even for Bangladeshi people. There are so many people living in the camps, how could me and my family members get treatment if we become infected?
How have you personally been affected by COVID-19 or the lockdown?
I cannot go outside. I cannot go to the Age Friendly Space where I get the chance to meet my friends and enjoy indoor games that help me to be active. I cannot go to sell stationery, which helps me to make ends meet for my family, along with the rations we receive. It’s like I’ve been arrested in my own house and I am just becoming mentally unwell.
Have any of your family members or close friends contracted the virus?
Not yet, Allah is saving us!
Are your movements restricted? If so, how is this affecting you?
Yes, our movements are restricted. Sitting around and sleeping for a long time is creating some kind of mental disorder. I do not know how long I can spend my days like this. We have received foods for two months. That is also a problem. As we have enough food now but we might eat more than we need and it might not last. I collect medicine from the Age Friendly Space. I used to have physiotherapy at the Age Friendly Space but now that is no longer possible as I am afraid to go outside. The physio is for lower back pain and other pain caused by the torture I endured in Myanmar.
How has your day to day life in general changed because of COVID-19?
I cannot move easily anywhere because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am afraid that other people are not maintaining social distancing. As they are cooped up in the house for a long time, they get together in crowds here and there and are shouting and creating problems.
Is the local community/government doing enough to help?
Yes, the Government and local authority initiatives are satisfactory. None of the services in the camp have stopped but there are rules regarding accessing the services and they are limited. As such, we have to wait a long time to access them.
What are the major challenges in observing the restrictions?
We, the older people, are trying to observe social distancing. And we need to go outside to collect water, food and gas so sometimes I think we are not strictly maintaining the distancing. We are not used to following these kinds of restriction and that’s the main challenge.
How is the lockdown affecting you emotionally?
As I cannot go outside, I cannot meet my friends. It’s really difficult to spend such a long time in such a tiny living place. I am missing the recreation facilities, gossiping and indoor games at the Age Friendly Space and that’s creating some mental pressure. Staying inside for long periods is also creating physical problems. It’s difficult for us to have the space to rest. We can sleep or share the bed at night but it is a bit difficult in the daytime.
Is COVID-19 your biggest fear at the moment?
Yes! This is the biggest fear for me as I have heard that older people are more at risk.
Read about how we're supporting older people in Cox's Bazar and the situation there.
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Older people in the poorest parts of the world affected by conflict or living in refugee camps need help urgently to survive the silent threat of COVID-19.
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