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Coronavirus: Dhaka’s Bihari camps at risk?

  • Published at 11:34 am April 11th, 2020
WEB_ Bihari Camp
File photo of a Bihari camp in MIrpur, Dhaka Dhaka Tribune

There are 300,000 to 450,000 Biharis living in secluded camps across Bangladesh, with more than half of them in Dhaka

Experts have said that the Bihari camps in Dhaka, due to their dense population and neglect by the authorities to maintain proper precautions and preparations, could turn into hotspots for coronavirus transmission.

According to various estimates, there are 300,000 to 450,000 Biharis living in secluded camps across Bangladesh, with more than half of them in Dhaka.

The experts have urged the authorities to take swift action to prevent the spread of this deadly virus in these camps situated in the capital’s Mohammadpur and Mirpur. They fear that if one resident gets infected by Covid-19, the whole camp will become a danger zone.

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, Dr Mujibur Rahman, head of the medicine department of Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH), said: “If the densely populated Bihari camps remain neglected, these places might turn into coronavirus hotspots.”

Echoing his views, Dr Shyamal Sarkar, a professor at the same department of DMCH, said: “Basic hygiene facilities should be provided to the Biharis immediately. Creating awareness among the community regarding the virus so that these poor people can stay safe from the virus is also important.”

Mohmmad Pappu, secretary of Bangladesh Mohajir Welfare and Development Committee (BMWDC), said that it was not possible for the Bihari community to follow the health guidelines issued by the government and maintain social distancing because of the intense density of population in the camp.

“Thus our people are safer out on the streets of the camps rather than staying inside their tiny houses.  Most of the families here have many family members. Besides, most of us are now jobless due to the holiday. 

“Despite all our limitations, we have urged the residents not to go to mosques for prayers, which not many are paying attention to and this is increasing the risks of coronavirus infection,” he added.

Meanwhile, the authorities were in the last few days forced to put some areas of Mirpur and Mohammadpur, which are in close proximity with the Bihari camps, under lockdown after detecting several coronavirus patients.

Locals fear hunger more than the virus

The Bihari community here in Dhaka – comprising largely uneducated, unskilled people who work as barbers, butchers, rickshaw pullers, transport workers and more – is in dire straits as it is yet to receive any aid from the government or any other organization.

The prolonged government holiday has not made things easier for them and now they are quite literally being forced to remain outside their homes in defiance of government directives toward maintaining social distancing and avoiding public gatherings.

On a visit, this correspondent saw that the camps were crammed beyond imagination and residents were roaming around without masks or any kind of protective gear to protect themselves from the virus.

Md Helal, a resident of the Bihari camp in Mirpur, said people were not going out of the camp but were on the streets to socialize, which he claimed posed lesser risks of infection.

Asked about what could be done to make the Bihari residents more aware about Covid-19, Helal said that there should be banners put up on the gates of the camp with detailed information regarding the virus.

When asked about the importance of social distancing to prevent coronavirus, Shahjahan Ali, a painter, who lives in one of the Bihari camps in Dhaka, said it was a luxury for someone like him.

“Maintaining social distancing is a dream for us. We have so little space to live. If the virus spreads in the camps, it will result in a famine here,” added Shahjahan, who lives with his five family members in a single room.

Community leaders said that if the coronavirus situation worsened, most Biharis would die of hunger as they had no jobs right now, no income sources because of the countrywide shutdown. 

Most of the residents here, if not all of them, are going through the same hardships and struggles amid this global crisis.