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

Islam, Sadaf Noor E and Mookherjee, Nayanika and Khan, Naveeda (2022) '‘Medicine in Name Only’: Mistrust and COVID-19 Among the Crowded Rohingya Refugee Camps in Bangladesh.', Medicine Anthropology Theory, 9 (2). pp. 1-32.


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.

Item Type:Article
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Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.
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Publisher statement:Copyright (c) 2022 Sadaf Noor E Islam, Nayanika Mookherjee, Naveeda Khan This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Date accepted:10 December 2021
Date deposited:04 May 2022
Date of first online publication:28 April 2022
Date first made open access:04 May 2022

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