Bangladesh (MNN) — The number of Rohingya refugees has now risen to nearly one million people since Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign, according to the United Nations. The incredible number of Rohingya pouring into Bangladesh in just six short months has put a tremendous strain on the host nation politically, economically, socially, and environmentally.
Government officials in Bangladesh are eager to repatriate Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar and have agreed to let the UN oversee the repatriation process. Myanmar officials said at the end of January that they were ready for the Rohingya to return, but the process has been delayed until it is deemed “safe”.
However, one Rohingya woman told CNN they will never feel safe enough to return to the nation that allowed the slaughter their people.
For now, most of the Rohingya refugees are living in refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Overcrowding and cramped conditions make it easy for the silent killer of disease to sweep through the camp.
That’s why Food for the Hungry and Medical Teams International have joined forces to assemble a series of medical facilities throughout the refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar.
Matt Ellingson with FH explains, “These are temporary structures. You know, everything in a refugee camp is in transition at the most basic levels, so we have shelters that are strategically located through three zones of the hugest camp you can imagine — over 800,000 people living in what used to be jungle, but now it is just rolling mud. These facilities are strategically located so that a catchment area of around 350,000 people have access to these primary healthcare facilities.”
Food for the Hungry has been working in Bangladesh since 1973, so they really are experts on ministry in the context of Bangladesh. For the medical facilities, FH provides the administrative and program guidance, and Medical Teams International brings in the health professionals.
Together, the ministries have already opened three medical facilities in Cox’s Bazar to serve Rohingya refugees. They are also working on three more medical facilities to launch as soon as they can.
“First, we have to allocate the land, find the space within the camp, [and] prepare the space because it’s a highly unstable land and the monsoon rains are coming. We have to be careful and make sure our facilities won’t slide off the side of the hill. Then we bring in health professionals.”
When the Rohingya refugee crisis first became apparent, Food for the Hungry deployed a needs assessment team. Ellingson was a part of this team and he says, “There were gaps in every type of activity required for life to thrive across the board in this crisis. You know, 600,000 people came across the border in a short matter of a couple of months, so you can imagine that everything from shelter to food, everything was in desperate need.”
Food for the Hungry and Medical Teams International decided that together they could have the most lifesaving impact in the medical care sector. The medical facilities they opened provide healthcare treatments, home visits, and if there is a serious illness or condition that needs hospitalization, they refer patients to a hospital outside the camp.
“Our program is like the tip of the spear in disease outbreak prevention. Your readers and listeners may have heard about the diphtheria outbreak. Our program was going door-to-door identifying people who showed likelihood of having diphtheria and getting them into the healthcare system in an effort to prevent the outbreak of diphtheria across this terrible, just amazingly congested, unsanitary refugee camp.”
Dignity is something that has been stripped from the Rohingya people time and time again. They were not recognized as citizens of Myanmar. They were shuffled into squalor villages in Myanmar that lacked access to many necessities. They were attacked, raped, murdered, and their villages burned. Now they live in congested camps while political figures debate what is to become of them.
Ellingson says through medical care, Food for the Hungry is aiming to reaffirm the beautiful dignity of the Rohingya people.
“The situation with the Rohingya refugees is complex. It is not just something that just happened over the last couple of months. This is a minority-versus-majority tension that has hundreds of years of history behind it, so it is complicated. There is a lot of history in this scenario. But regardless of all the hundreds of years of tension, people shouldn’t be treated this way. So we are motivated by the love that the Lord has for us to love our neighbor, regardless of where that neighbor is, and the Rohingya are our neighbor as well.”
Please take this opportunity to pray for Food for the Hungry’s ministry and for the Rohingya refugees.
Ellingson says for their team on the ground in Bangladesh, “Just being physically worn out and then vulnerable to illness is huge. The impact we are seeing in the United States here with this horrible flu season, the same type of impact is happening on the ground within the humanitarian community. When aid workers fall ill, critical services are impacted negatively. So pray for health for the whole team — emotional health, spiritual health, and physical health.”