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Vol 9 No 2 (2022)

‘Medicine in Name Only’: Mistrust and COVID-19 Among the Crowded Rohingya Refugee Camps in Bangladesh

February 15, 2021
April 28, 2022


This article is an anthropological examination of the health-seeking behaviours of Rohingya refugees living in crowded camps in Bangladesh, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. One international organisation providing medical care in the Kutupalong camp has found non-cooperation among the residents regarding the health facilities on offer to them. This ethnography highlights the Rohingya refugees’ active ‘mistrust’ (Carey 2017) of these medical services. We argue that these prevalent forms of mistrust provide a lens through which their individual life trajectories and politics can be understood in the context of the history of their systemic oppression by the Myanmar government. We reflect on the precarity and vulnerability of the Rohingya refugees, within which they identify mistrust as a source of resistance and protection. The mistrust of the Rohingya communities also highlights their attempts to communicate with a global public (Canetti 1960) and exhibits the ‘crowd politics’ (Chowdhury 2019) within a continued statelessness which is engendered by the Bangladeshi and Myanmar governments. This article makes an original contribution to the discussion of trust, mistrust, and rumour in society, identifying ‘the crowd’ as a site of resistance, and providing an account of the distinctive experience of the Rohingyas as refugees, and their health-seeking behaviour in the camp.