Help Us Close The Gates of Hell - Tim Costello

Refugee conditions in Bangladesh are like looking at “the gates of hell” World Vision Chief Advocate Tim Costello said this morning.

“I have been to lots of terrible refugee camps but this tops the list. This felt like the gates of hell,” Mr Costello told Radio National host Fran Kelly. “These people are stateless, they are now homeless and they are hopeless – we must provide immediate aid but also a longer sense of hope and purpose.”

Speaking from Cox’s Bazar, Mr Costello said that the endless stream of refugees fleeing violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, was creating impossible conditions for Bangladesh, itself an impoverished and overcrowded country.

Almost 600,000 have arrived since violence initially broke out on August 25, at a rate of up to 3000 a day, putting impossible strain on basic services. They often walk for days to get to the relative safety of Bangladesh, crossing mountains and rivers, carrying their young or wheeling the elderly in homemade barrows. Mr Costello said that physically people were in a terrible state.

“I’ve met mothers who should be breastfeeding and cannot lactate, and they now have malnourished children. Many walk 10 days without food just to get here because their villages were burned, women were being raped, their loved ones killed,” Mr Costello said.

“Add to that the lack of space! That means they are thrown together in the most terrible cheek by jowl concentration, and when that happens the protection issues with children are just immense – this really is an apocalyptic scene. I was deeply distressed just observing it.”

World Vision has identified more than 1500 unaccompanied and separated children, with children continuing to cross the border at an astounding rate of between 1200 and 1800 each day. World Vision is seeking to ensure that there is proper tracking or unaccompanied children, and that their immediate needs are met.

World Vision is providing lifesaving food rations, and is ready to mobilise on the second part of its response, which includes

  • Trucking in clean water, building wells, installing toilets and bathing spaces
  • Providing hygiene kits and high energy supplements to pregnant and lactating women and babies
  • Creating more safe spaces for women and children

World Vision has called on the Government of Myanmar to:

  • Allow international aid agencies to access to conflict-affected areas
  • Uphold their obligations and protect the rights of all civilians in their territory, including aid workers.
  • Carry out security operations in accordance with international law, ensuring civilians are able to seek safety, protection and aid.
  • Permit refugees to return in safety and dignity if that is their choice, in line with international standards.

World Vision has called on the international community to continue to support the Bangladesh authorities to ensure that the needs of refugees are met and their rights are upheld.

Mr Costello said that it was vital to restore a sense of hope to the refugees trapped at the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

“That’s why it matters that we are here, that we are caring for them and saying, we know your name, we know your child, and we’re here to give you hope.

Given the growing scale of displacement internationally, World Vision is calling on the Australian Government to increase its humanitarian intake to 42,000 annually.

Media Contact: Leah Swann 0421 857 591

Donation link: Myanmar-Bangladesh refugee crisis

Picture: Refugee girl, Somsida, 11, who fled violence in Rakhine State with her family: “In my dreams I see people running, crying, shouting and fighting and suddenly I get up in fear.” 

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