By Linda Bordoni
Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh camps are facing the possibility of a severe outbreak of diphtheria and more suffering.
Over half a million Rohingya have fled Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh in recent months after violent repression by the country’s security forces.
During his recent visit to Bangladesh Pope Francis condemned the persecution of the Rohingyas and asked forgiveness for those who have harmed them and for the indifference shown by the world for their terrible plight.
After a dangerous journey in the jungle and across the river Naf, over 650,000 Rohingya survivors have found refuge in overcrowded and unsanitary camps where, according to aid workers, the rate of infection from diphtheria – which is particularly dangerous for children - is increasing rapidly.
That’s why the humanitarian organization MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station), which is providing crucial assistance to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, has launched a Christmas appeal to help provide medication and emergency care.
MOAS co-founder and director, Regina Catrambone, spoke to Linda Bordoni about the appeal and the ongoing crisis:
Catrambone explained that the organization is appealing for mercy and solidarity to help her organization continue the work it is doing in Bangladesh.
She said that at the moment MOAS is running two clinics - in Shamlapur and in Unchiprang - where at least 300 people are visited and treated by medical staff every day in each station.
Threat of diphtheria epidemic
In light of the new serious outbreak of diphtheria, Catrambone says the organization is also providing vital support to the Bangladesh government by helping with vaccinations.
She said healthcare in the makeshift camps is of crucial importance “because the hygienic conditions are very poor and disease spreads easily.
Pope Francis's appeal for the Rohingyas
“The situation in the camps is awful” she continued, recalling the words of Pope Francis during his visit to Bangladesh at the beginning of December when he said “we need to do much, much more, we cannot abandon our brothers and sisters”.
Catrambone said 60 % of the people visited in the MOAS clinics are women and children, and they are all deeply traumatized: “most of the women have been mentally challenged, they have seen their homes burnt to the ground, many of them are widows because their husbands have been killed and many have lost other members of the family”.
She said the children are afraid: “You can see deep sadness in their eyes” but when you start to talk to them and make them feel accepted they understand and let themselves be comforted
“This is why MOAS is there: to cure, to listen, to comfort and to care” she said.
“In a situation where everything is needed, we are asking for donations as we are treating so many people at the moment and the cost of the medicines is quite high” she explained.
So, Catrambone concluded “I appeal to everybody to help us – something that for you is perhaps only little – can help save a life: the life of a child, of a mother or of a father. So help us to help them”.