The Buddhist humanitarian organization Join Together Society Korea (JTS), founded by the renowned Korean Seon (Zen) monk and engaged Buddhist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, has provided 10,000 pieces of personal protective wear to Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh.
“On 10 August, JTS Korea, in cooperation with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), delivered 10,000 pieces of protective clothing to the medical center at the Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which is fighting to stop the spread of COVID-19,” SunHee Choi of JTS Korea told Buddhistdoor Global. “The Rohingya refugee camp is one of the biggest refugee camps in the world and is in desperate need of sanitary and medical facilities support.”
Experts and relief workers have warned of the potentially devastating risk of a COVID-19 outbreak among the approximately one million Rohingya Muslim refugees packed into crowded temporary camps near the township of Cox’s Bazar. The refugees, who have poured into Bangladesh since 2017, fleeing suppression by state security forces in neighboring Buddhist-majority Myanmar, are living in cramped shacks—an estimated 40,000 people per square kilometer—with poor sanitation, limited access to medical care, and dangerously exposed to the spread of contagion.*
Bangladesh has so far reported 299,682 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 4,028 related deaths, as at the time of writing.** According to government data cited by media reports, 88 cases of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have been found in the refugee camps and six people have died.
Religious tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in neighboring Myanmar have simmered for almost half a century, and Myanmar’s government classifies Rohingya Muslims as stateless foreign migrants, even though many communities have lived in Myanmar for generations. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have reportedly fled military clearance operations and attacks by Buddhist mobs, seeking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh in what the United Nations has described as the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.”
“JTS relief aid of 10,000 pieces of protective clothing is expected to play a pivotal role in preventing the spread of COIVD-19 in the camp, which has been experiencing great difficulty securing PPE and relief aid due to the global pandemic,” SunHee Choi told Buddhistdoor Global. “Along with emergency food aid, JTS provided 100,000 gas stoves from 2017–19, benefitting more than 500,000 Rohingya refugees. Not only did this improve cooking conditions and protect nearby forests from complete deforestation, but it also secured the safety of the women and children from the various dangers they faced whenever they went to gather firewood.”
In January last year, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim led a delegation of aid representatives, including JTS President Gena Park, JTS Goodwill Ambassadors screenwriter Noh Hee-kyung and actor Jo In-sung, along with the state Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) chairman Lee Mi-kyung, to deliver a consignment of gas stoves to the refugee camp.***
A widely respected author, Dharma teacher, and social activist in his native South Korea, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects that are active across the world. Among them, Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living, and sustainability, is dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering, including environmental degradation, poverty, and conflict. Join Together Society, an international aid organization, works to eradicate poverty and hunger through humanitarian relief and sustainable development.
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim also works closely with the Thailand-based International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). In May this year, JTS Korea donated US$50,000 to INEB’s Mindful Action: COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.****
In April, JTS Korea also donated a consignment of PPE to medical staff at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center in the Philippines. The PPE consisted of 400 overalls, 250 N95 masks, 200 eye shields, and 3,000 surgical masks. The supplies were gratefully received as the center had been experiencing a serious shortage of PPE equipment.
At the time of writing, total global confirmed COVID-19 infections were reported to have reached 23.9 million, with 819,609 deaths so far recorded and 15.6 million recovered.** The World Health Organization in March estimated the mortality rate from the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus, believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, at 3–4 per cent, based on incomplete and preliminary data, with the elderly and people with underlying health conditions considered most at risk. More recent data suggests that the mortality rate may be significantly lower, however studies are inconclusive due to variations in COVID-19 testing procedures in different countries, and differing methodologies for classifying and reporting COVID-19 as a cause of death.
* Concern Grows Over Looming Coronavirus Risk at Rohingya Camps in Bangladesh (Buddhistdoor Global)
**** International Network of Engaged Buddhists Launches COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund (Buddhistdoor Global)
International Network of Engaged Buddhists
United Nations World Food Programme
Rohingya hold ‘silent protest’ on anniversary of exodus to Bangladesh (Reuters)