The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately harmed refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people such as the Rohingyas, said speakers at an online event jointly organised by the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) and Free Rohingya Coalition.
The lockdowns and economic slowdown in different countries have robbed the Rohingyas of their livelihood opportunities and pushed them into an abyss of hunger and malnutrition. It has also exposed them to exploitation, hate and xenophobia, they added.
Experts and rights activists made the observations on Thursday at an e-symposium titled "Hunger, Exploitation, Hate Crimes and Xenophobia: Rohingyas on Land and at Sea."
They urged the host countries to make every effort to counter the growing discourses of fear and loathing of Rohingyas as "Covid-19 carriers," "drug mules," "agents of human traffickers" or a threat to the "national security," as that echoes the state ideology of Myanmar, the main perpetrator of the genocide.
Among other things, the participants demanded that the international community should ensure that Myanmar pays appropriate reparations to the countries that are adversely affected by refugee flows.
Sujauddin Karimuddin, a Rohingya community leader in Australia, said, "Being refugees is not our choice, because circumstances compel us to move to other lands."
Urging all countries of asylum to allow refugees to live in dignity until they return home, he added, "Repatriation of Rohingyas to their homeland is the only solution of the current crisis. But until the process starts, the host countries have to allow them to contribute to society."
Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition based in Germany, said, "Repatriation from Bangladesh can be started only after Myanmar offers all basic rights to Rohingyas. Huge pressure has to be put on Myanmar to ensure the repatriation.
"The migrated Rohingyas in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia are now facing hardship as many of them have become jobless."
The speakers also demanded littoral states of the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea to immediately allow the drifting boats to dock on land.
They noted that there is an urgent need for states and donors to recognise the Rohingya community's agency and create opportunities for self-empowerment and entrepreneurship.
Ali Johar of Rohingya Human Rights Initiative based in India, said, "Any Rohingyas did not carry out a single incident that goes against the national security of India. But few media played an extreme role against Rohingyas."
The moderator of the session, Dr CR Abrar of the RMMRU called for global civil society to stand in solidarity with Rohingyas to establish their rightful claims to Myanmar citizenship.
Among others, Sharifa Shaqira of Rohingya Women Development Network based in the United States and Hafsar Tamesuddin, refugee rights and gender equality advocate based in New Zealand also spoke in the session.