Myanmar refugee crisis: a view from the ground


Photos: Andrew Philip/Tearfund

Tearfund's Antony Bushfield has recently returned from Bangladesh where he spent time in the refugee camps, seeing first-hand the work of our partners.

I am surrounded by harrowing stories and terrible injuries. The conditions in the refugee camps in Bangladesh are dreadful and yet they are home to more than half a million Rohingya people – the only home they have.

Since August thousands of people have crossed over the border every day to escape violence in Myanmar. They tell of homes being burned and family members killed before their eyes.

Most, if not all, had to flee with a moment’s notice and just the clothes on their backs.

‘Nothing could be brought with us, they burned the whole house,’ one family told me as they stood in the doorway of their tent – some bamboo and bin bags with little protection from the powerful monsoon rain or intense heat.

Everyone in need
There wasn’t a single person I saw who did not need help. They were mostly women and children, with many babies born in the camp in squalid conditions.

Two medical centres have been operating in the Kutupalong camp where doctors, funded by the donations of Tearfund supporters like you, have treated illnesses from serious diarrhoea to acute aches and pains. Hundreds of deworming pills have been given out to children, many of whom have never seen a doctor in their life.

Dr Ravirant Singh works for one of Tearfund’s partners and has been involved in disaster relief for more than a decade, including the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake in 2015. ‘This is very distressing, I have never seen this kind of suffering anywhere across the globe,’ he told me after a long day tending to hundreds of patients.

He had given out thousands of multivitamin tablets, rehydration sachets and antibiotics but he stressed that without proper food and nutrition his efforts would be fruitless.

Days of waiting
Tearfund partner Coastal Association for Social Transformation (COAST) Trust, has been providing shelter and clean drinking water to thousands of people. They have also been able to provide food parcels with rice, potatoes, cooking oil and salt.

With thousands of new people arriving at the camp every day the demand is increasing all the time and queuing time for food is at least eight hours.

Barkoosam (13) has been in the camp for a month. His father was killed and he had to flee with his mother and two brothers. He walks for 20 minutes through fields, mud and narrow passageways every day to wait in line for food.

For three days Barkoosam had returned to his tent with nothing, despite waiting from dawn until dusk in the blistering heat.

‘I have been waiting for three days for support but every time the food ran out. They gave priority to the women,’ he said.

Food at last
But on the day I met Barkoosam, he had been more fortunate – at last he had received a food parcel from Tearfund’s partner COAST Trust and was scampering through the maze of tents and water-filled ditches, his precious cargo carried on his head.

We reached the small shelter he shares with his mother, Sookina (58) and his two brothers. The roof is made of nothing more than black bags and some bamboo, the sides open providing no shelter – just an open space with a small fence around it.

‘I’m happy and relieved. If we don’t get support and food, we are sad,’ his mother said. She pointed inside to an almost empty tent, ‘We could not bring any of our possessions, our homes were burnt.’

Your help has also meant that more than 100 families have been given chickens – a crucial source of protein. Mothers and children smiled broadly as the truck arrived.

One mother, holding her baby in one hand and a chicken in the other, said she was delighted. ‘Tonight I will be able to make the family curry for the first time in many weeks,’ she said.

Your prayers and gifts make a huge difference to people like Barkoosam and Sookina, and the many others in need. Thank you.

Please pray

  • Praise God for every person we have been able to help. Pray that the ongoing needs of the refugees can be met and that there are enough supplies for everyone.
  • Pray for the aid workers in the camps, that they have the energy, expertise and equipment needed to help. Pray also that they are able to respond to increasing needs.
  • Pray that a solution can be found to the ongoing issues so that the refugees can go home.

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