Living in unhygienic conditions, the Rohingya refugees are more susceptible to COVID-19, however, many cases go undetected as they resort to home remedies.

The women and children of the second settlement in Bengaluru's Dasarahalli stand outside a shanty
news Coronavirus Saturday, June 12, 2021 - 19:24

This story is a part of the TNM COVID-19 reporting project. To support this project, make a payment here.

Kohinoor, a 40-year-old Rohingya refugee, was recently down with high fever. However, she “cured” herself using home remedies. When asked if they could have got an RT-PCR done, she said they did not have access to those facilities. Like Kohinoor, other members of the Rohingya community have little or no access to healthcare facilities. Many COVID-19 cases go undetected in the refugee settlement near Dasarahalli as the community members resort to home remedies or buy over-the-counter medication to treat themselves.  

“If we ever get fever or cold, we get local medicines and go back to work,” pointed out 40-year-old Karimullah, a Rohingya refugee. Another member said they drink the extract of papaya tree leaves that grow near the settlements to “cure” them if anyone gets a fever.”

The Rohingyas are an ethnic, linguistic group that fled Myanmar after the state’s attempts at systematic persecution of the community. In search of a better life, many arrived in India through Bangladesh. However, not much has changed for the community since then, said Karimullah. They continue to reside in shanties made from tin, plastic and mud on a vast ground near Lumbini Garden in Bengaluru’s Dasarahalli. With little spacing between their shanties, lack of toilets and waste surrounding their settlement makes their living conditions extremely unsanitary. These unhygienic conditions make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Although the community is vulnerable to the infection, the members say that no government agency has approached them for vaccination against COVID-19.

The Rohingya refugee settlement in Bengaluru's Dasarahalli 

R Kaleem Ullah, a human rights activist, who has been working with the Rohingya refugees for a little over a year, said that they were planning to approach the civic body regarding the inoculation of the refugees. He told TNM that a fellow activist, Zia Nomani, working with the Law and Research Institute, has already written to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), raising the issue of their inoculation. We have heard no response from the UNHCR so far, he added. 

Upon being quizzed whether they will take the COVID-19 vaccine or not, some members of the community expressed hesitation owing to financial constraints and fear of adverse effects. “What if we were to take the vaccine and we fall sick? Whom will we approach and how will we earn if we are sick after taking the COVID-19 vaccine,” questioned 20-year-old Fatma. Kohinoor added that they do not have enough money to get vaccinated. Concurrently, some members from the adjacent settlement of the Rohingyas told TNM that they would get inoculated if they were administered vaccines. “We will all get our doses of vaccines as soon as they declare us eligible for the inoculation; we are also scared of the infection. Unlike others, we don’t even have money for the treatment of the infection,” said Salma.

Since the vaccination drive was first launched on January 16, 2021, Karnataka has cumulatively vaccinated 1,64,68,975 people in the state. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had earlier announced additional categories under which the civic body will be vaccinating people from different sections on a priority basis, including those from low-income groups and those who do not have an official ID card.

The women in the settlement resting before getting back to work 

When TNM reached out to the BBMP, an official noted that the civic body will readily vaccinate the group if they come forth and identify themselves. The official, involved with vaccination of frontline categories and priority groups, stated that in-principle, the refugees were eligible to get vaccinated under the destitute category if someone represented their community. “If the members of the community, any organisation or individual approaches us, we will depute our health officers to conduct a survey and inoculate the refugees. The government has been asking for an ID card so that they can trace them and administer the second shot as well. However, the government has not denied anyone from being vaccinated and if we are notified, the BBMP will look into the matter,” the official added. 

BBMP chief Gaurav Gupta said that the vaccination drive should be extended to the refugees. "We [the BBMP] have to take into consideration their refugee status and also the government's stance on the same," he said, adding that the civic body should try to help the community by deputing officials concerned.

TNM COVID-19 Reporting Project is funded by our readers. We would like to thank the following people for making this story possible: Ashwin A, Vani Saraswathi, Yatish Shetty, Abhishek B, Rohit Raghavan, Robin BE, Sandeep, Ganesh, Sudharsan, Abhash Kumar, K Bhaskar, Ganesh Chakravarthi, Krithika Muthuraman, Nishant Radhakrishnan, Abhirami Girija Sriram and many others.

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Read more stories from this reader-funded project:

Amidst COVID-19 crisis, high-risk Rohingya refugees in Hyderabad live in fear

A stranger’s grief: A day in the life of Bengaluru’s crematorium workers

Tribal hamlets that escaped first wave of COVID-19 are now fighting second wave

No such rule, but many vaccination centres are insisting on Aadhaar as proof

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