Listen: Laura Bennett interviews Abby McPharlin, crisis director at Samaritan’s Purse. Above: Rohingya Muslims walk through a muddy field to take shelter at Balukhali refugee camp in Bangladesh. Image: Suvra Kanti Das
There’s a common phrase repeated by many of the aid workers helping traumatised Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: “We haven’t seen anything like this before”.
Red Cross health worker Kym Blechynden, who has worked “everywhere from Syria to Chad”, thought she’d be prepared for what she’d see when she headed for Bangladesh to help in what is a mass -scale human crisis. But, as she recently wrote for the ABC, “these are the worst conditions I have encountered”.
Her co-workers are saying the same thing: “Between us, we have more than 35 years’ experience working in emergency response — these are still the worst conditions any of us have ever seen,” she writes.
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- Rohingya Refuge Crisis “Like Walking Through the Gates of Hell” — Tim Costello
World Vision’s Tim Costello has told Open House that the refugee camps are “like walking through the gates of hell” and that it was “the worst human suffering” he’s witnessed, while Samaritan’s Purse crisis director Abby McPharlin brought Hope 103.2 a similar report.
“It’s pretty horrendous, the things we’re seeing,” she told Laura Bennett. “A lot of our staff haven’t seen anything like this before. There’s been whole communities lit on fire: houses completely burnt to the ground. We’re hearing horrific stories on the ground from these refugees and the experiences they’ve had to undergo to flee. Now they’re living in Bangladesh, in horrendous conditions again, as a result.”
Sick, Wounded, Close to Death
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Since August 2017, an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims, described as the world’s most persecuted people, have been driven from their homes by a terror campaign conducted by the Myanmar military, fleeing north to Bangladesh.
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They are a stateless people, not acknowledged by the Myanamar government; their babies don’t even get birth certificates.
Now, residing in already-crowded refugee camps, they’re stateless again, living in limbo, struggling to survive. In Kutapalong Refugee Camp, around 800,000 refugees are now crammed into four square kilometres. That’s about five square metres’ living space per person.
And many are arriving sick, wounded, and close to death.
“You’ve got people travelling kilometres upon kilometres through mountainous terrain, without access to healthcare services,” Abby explained. “So when they get there, they may have experienced burns as a result of the insurgency in Myanmar, gunshot wounds, landmines, that’s the type of thing we’re seeing.
“We’ve seen injuries from wild animal attacks; they’re crossing through rice paddies. They’re literally carrying their belongings, their life, on their backs, plus their children.
“And then to arrive and not have access to housing, water, food, and you’re already depleted of all the nutrients and things you need to live. And when you get that many people in that small an area, you’re going to have outbreak of disease.
““There’s a real need for healthcare and surgical care.”
Providing Medical Care and Hope
Above: Rohingya Refugees being cared for by Samaritan’s Purse medicsWhile other organisations are providing food and housing, Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian-based international aid organisation, is particularly focussing on medical aid.
“One of the big things we are seeing is a lot of trauma, a lot of psycho-social issues,” Abby said. “So our doctors and nurses are also trying to deal with the psychological effects of this as well. As Christians we can do both [physical and emotional care], because we have the hope we’ve found in Christ, that we can share to other people in those moments.”
She said the message of God’s love and practical care has impacted many in desperate need of hope.
“We are meeting people in their darkest depths, standing alongside them and being a physical representation of Christ, and helping psychologically and spiritually,” she said.
“The kids are the stories that get you. They’re the ones who are nameless in the midst of these crises and who are innocent. These people are just like you and me and deserve the same rights and access to things that you and I have.“
Pray, Give, or Go
Samaritan’s Purse is calling on people of faith to pray for their work – that staff will be not only be supported in giving practical help but have opportunities to share spiritual hope as well.
Medical personnel are also needed.
“If you’re a nurse or a doctor, and you’ve got a heart for helping those in need in desperate dark situations, we desperately need ward nurses, surgery nurses, and other medical personnel,” Abby said.
To support financially, donate funds at the Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Relief page.