Myanmar & COVID-19

Rohingya Man Tests Positive for COVID-19 After Returning to Myanmar Illegally From Bangladesh

By Min Aung Khine 4 June 2020

SITTWE, Rakhine State—A Rohingya man who returned illegally from Bangladesh to Myanmar’s Rakhine State has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to local authorities.

He was part of a five-member family who illegally returned from a Bangladeshi village to their village in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township on May 30.

Maungdaw authorities, upon receiving a report about their return, went to the village and took the family to the Hla Poe Khaung transit camp for quarantine. They were tested for the coronavirus and the 38-year-old man, the family’s breadwinner, tested positive, said Maungdaw district administrator U Soe Aung.

According to the Ministry of Health and Sports’ COVID-19 update released on Thursday morning, the man was classified as case No. 234 and will be treated at Maungdaw General Hospital.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched a series of attacks on security outposts in northern Rakhine on Aug. 25, 2017, prompting the Myanmar military to carry out clearance operations that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh.

The Myanmar government, in accordance with an agreement reached with the Bangladeshi government on the repatriation of Rohingya, opened two reception centers in early 2018 for official returnees—one in Taungpyo Letwei, for those returning over the border, and one in Nga Khura for those returning by boat.

No one has officially returned under the government-facilitated program established under the bilateral agreement, but more than 600 Rohingya have so far voluntarily returned independently of the procedures, according to the Maungdaw District General Administration Department.

Those who return independently must report to relevant departments to verify whether they previously lived in Myanmar and were part of the 2017 exodus, and to check whether they have ties to ARSA, which the government has labeled a terrorist organization.

However, since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Myanmar, the government has closed the Maungdaw border and suspended repatriation activities, said district administrator U Soe Aung.

“The five returned illegally,” he said.

Authorities are keeping the man’s four family members in isolation at Hla Poe Khaung transit camp, and are tracking down their recent contacts, he said.

In May, two men from Thandwe and Taungup tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from Malaysia. The two are responding well to treatment, according to the Rakhine State Health Department.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko