COVID-19 was supposed to be the “great leveler” in negatively affecting all races, ethnicities, cultures, and socioeconomic rungs equally. While it is true a virus doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor, white or black, young or old, it is also true that the novel coronavirus has disproportionately killed those in low-income jobs, black and brown people, and the elderly.
The virus has exacerbated inequality and added further vulnerability to persecuted minorities, but particularly Muslims due to the way the governments of powerful nation states have conspired and mobilized against them, and the state of public healthcare in places where large portions of the Muslim world live.
The Rohingya Muslim refugee camps provide a nightmarish preview for the fate that awaits persecuted Muslim communities.
The Rohingya Muslim refugee camps on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border provide a nightmarish preview for the fate that awaits other persecuted Muslim communities elsewhere in the world.
Upwards of one million Rohingya are crammed together in squalid refugee camps along a small stretch of the Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar highway, so much so that every one-square mile is home to 100,000 Rohingya refugees, making social distancing and quarantine measures virtually impossible. Should COVID-19 reach these camps, and it is improbable that it won’t, the outcome will be disastrous.
“We need emergency support,” Satar Islam Nitob, a Rohingya refugee at Kutapalong refugee camp, told Inside Arabia via phone. “We are very worried the NGO groups here don’t even have facemasks or hand sanitizer. No one tested positive to disease [COVID-19] yet but it will be very bad when someone does.”
It takes little imagination and only basic math to comprehend exactly how bad things will become if and when COVID-19 hits these camps.
“In the best-case scenarios, scientists believe that the disease could have a mortality rate as low as under 1 percent. . . . In conditions such as those in Cox’s Bazar, mortality rates could easily reach 20 percent,” observes Azeem Ibrahim, author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide.” “So, Cox’s Bazar is a place where, if the virus gets in, virtually everyone in those camps is guaranteed to get it, and as many as 20 percent of those who get it are likely to die. We are talking 200,000 people. An order of magnitude more than those killed by the Myanmar military.”
Similar scenarios could play out in any number of places where Muslim or mostly Muslim populations are held, detained, or imprisoned – and denied access to adequate healthcare and luxury of social distancing, including Gaza, Syria, Assam (India), Xinjiang (China) and elsewhere.
The Arab League warned that a “humanitarian disaster” could occur if the coronavirus spreads in refugee camps in Syria.
On Thursday, the Arab League warned that a “humanitarian disaster” could occur if the coronavirus pandemic spreads in refugee camps in Syria, a country that has been wrecked beyond recognition after nine years of war, while also bearing in mind that the Assad regime and Russian Air Force have waged a deliberate war against Syrian hospitals and medical clinics as part of the effort to change the country’s political demography.
In Gaza, where roughly 2 million Palestinians occupy a narrow stretch of land that totals fewer than 141 square miles, an outbreak of the virus could only be produced in a scene out of a horror film, given Gaza’s healthcare system is already on the brink of total collapse.
“The Gaza Strip has been under strict Israeli siege for the past 14 years, which has affected all aspects of life in a devastating way, including the health system,” Dr. Basem Naim, a former Palestinian Minister of Health and resident of Gaza, told Inside Arabia. “It’s ill-equipped to provide even basic needs that are required in the face of a terrible epidemic like coronavirus.”
In China, ethnic Uyghur Muslims face an even more perilous fate; given upwards of 3 million have been detained in a network of concentration camps. Were COVID-19 to hit any of these camps, if it hasn’t already, then hundreds of thousands will perish due to being “crammed in like sardines.”
Reports suggest Beijing has transferred thousands of Uyghur Muslims to work on the frontlines where the virus has hit hardest.
Worse – reports suggest Beijing has transferred thousands of Uyghur, who had previously been assigned forced labor duties, to work on the frontlines where the virus has hit hardest, including Hunan, Jiangxi, and Zhejiang, according to the Observer Research Foundation.
“There is no guarantee that these Uyghurs will come home alive. China must stop forcing Uyghurs to go to the mainland and work as cheap labor under the threat of the coronavirus,” Dolkun Isa, director of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, told Radio Free Asia.
Also, bearing heavily on the minds of the Muslim world are the Asian countries India and Indonesia, where roughly 25 percent of the world’s total Muslim population reside, with both countries home to more than 200 million adherents of the Islamic faith.
In India, Muslims are being falsely blamed for spreading the virus, adding to their persecution under the Narendra Modi government, making the world’s largest democracy “the most dangerous place for a Muslim during the COVID-19 pandemic.” And that is not overlooking the fact that Muslims had already been cast aside as second-class citizens, politically and economically, which means they have lower income-housing-health outcomes to other segments of the population, making them extra vulnerable to contagion.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, there are only four doctors for every 10,000 people.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, there are only four doctors for every 10,000 people and fewer than three intensive care beds per 100,000. A newly published study by the University of Indonesia projects the country could see more than 240,000 deaths in the next month or two alone.
In Kashmir, 8 million Muslims face an equally uncertain fate, as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to spike upwards, recording an average of 30 to 50 new cases per day in the past week. Though it’s not only the virus the average Kashmiri fears, but also the Indian military – and there’s next to no chance New Delhi won’t use the virus as a new tool of oppression.
Ultimately, the more things change, the more they stay the same. For Muslims, tomorrow will look a whole lot like yesterday. They will remain disproportionately bombed, occupied, persecuted, and negatively affected by a global pandemic.