Bangladesh: There are over 70 million people worldwide who have been driven from their homes by war and unrest, up to 10 million are packed into refugee camps and informal settlements, and almost none have been tested for the coronavirus.
While the relative isolation of many camps may have slowed the virus’ spread, none is hermetically sealed. Without testing, as the world has seen repeatedly, the virus can spread unchecked until people start showing symptoms. That could have catastrophic results among the world’s refugees: There will be few if any intensive care beds or ventilators for them. There might not even be gloves or masks.
“Testing is in short supply even in New York and Norway, but it is nonexistent in most of the countries in the (global) south for the people we try to help,” Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said.
His group recently conducted a review of all 30 countries where it operates and found virtually no testing before people became sick.
In Syria’s war-ravaged Idlib province, only one small health facility is equipped to receive suspected coronavirus cases. In the world’s largest refugee camp, in Bangladesh, aid workers are racing to build isolation facilities. In two sprawling camps in Kenya, Somalis who survived decades of famine and war fear the worst is yet to come.
Some refugee camps have been around so long they have apartment blocks and paved roads. Others are little more than clusters of tents or abandoned buildings. In many, cramped conditions and poor infrastructure can make it impossible to practice social distancing and frequent hand-washing.
There are no official figures for the number of refugees who live in camps, but Egeland estimates they make up 10% to 15% of all refugees and displaced people, a population the U.N. estimates at over 70 million.
Refugees have already tested positive in Italy, Germany, Iran, Australia and Greece, where authorities said Tuesday that 150 people living in a quarantined hotel for asylum-seekers had contracted the coronavirus, and none displayed symptoms of COVID-19.