'We hope for the best but plan for the worst': Medair team leader working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

06 December 2017 | by Phil Vice

An estimated 625,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees have fled Myanmar for camps in Bangladesh since late August, joining an existing Rohingya refugee population of up to 300,000. They say they've fled widespread violence perpetrated by the military in the north of Myanmar's Rakhine State.

The Myanmar military has denied wrongdoing and says it is targeting terrorists responsible for killing security forces. The United Nations, the US and the UK have called the situation in Rakhine State "ethnic cleansing". On Tuesday (5 December) the UN human rights chief suggested that genocide "cannot be ruled out."

Phil Vice, Team Leader for British charity Medair’s emergency response in Bangladesh, has been deployed since 16 September to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are currently living in makeshift shelters outside of the city.

On first arriving in the city, it’s hard to imagine that there are hundreds of thousands of recently arrived refugees just a short drive away. When visiting the camps, it’s breathtaking to see just how expansive they are. Where once there were only uninhabited hills, there are now families crowded together in makeshift shelters as far as the eye can see in every direction.

The need was, and is, desperate.

In partnership with other agencies on the ground, we have been able to distribute basic shelter and hygiene kits to 4500 families, but people still need additional food, clean water, latrines, access to health care, shelter upgrades, and much more.

However, the situation has improved greatly since the early days. Most people - at this point at least - have tarpaulin and bamboo for a simple shelter, some simple items such as cooking utensils, and access to a simple supply of rice.

But, this does not even begin to meet the bare minimum standard of living that people need to live with dignity. The refugees are preparing for the possibility of staying long-term and most of the temporary solutions put in place will need upgrades or replacement. Nutrition in particular is a rapidly growing concern. We’re currently working with the UN and other agencies to start up a nutrition project that will truly be life-saving.

Watch our video here.

We recognise that the situation here is still changing and more people come across the border each week. The needs are so extensive that even the large number of agencies on the ground will need more time and resources to deliver the needed services to the Rohingya people.

We hope for the best but plan for the worst, and always keep in mind the fact that every person is valuable and deserves to have a hope for their future. We’re currently working with the UN and other agencies to start up a nutrition project that will truly be life-saving.

As team leader I manage the team of international and national experts and am ultimately responsible for coordination and strategy on the ground.

As one might imagine, there is a lot of information for teams to absorb coming into a rapidly changing emergency context.

A typical day might involve a coordination meeting between humanitarian agencies, an assessment mission to the refugee sites, and planning meetings with the team to discuss what has happened and what needs to happen. Each day is a new challenge.

PICTURES: Aadil; a Rohingya mother and child; people queue for medical supplies in a makeshift camp outside of Cox's Bazaar ©Medair UK 

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