The global refugee crisis is one of the most pressing issues in recent history. Over 70.8 million people have been forcibly displaced fleeing extreme dangers, whether escaping relentless bombing, invading armies, gang-spurred violence, or other life-threatening circumstances. Along these journeys, refugees and internally displaced people often live in constant uncertainty without access to fundamental human needs, such as clean water, food, shelter, personal security, or health care. Caught in desperate situations, displaced people face major challenges even if they make it to their intended destinations, as many governments are closing their borders on vulnerable people, leaving them trapped in camps and squalid settlements. Many of these people are left with a heavy toll on their mental health, often without any support or resources available to them.
For nearly five decades, the people behind the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have worked tirelessly fighting for the rights, protection and humane treatment of displaced people and providing life-saving support for millions of people seeking safety. Doctors Without Borders decides to intervene in crises based solely on an independent assessment of people’s needs — not political, economic, or religious interests. Doctors Without Borders does not take sides — they go where the need is greatest. The organization relies on private donors for the ability to operate independently, allowing teams to respond at a moment’s notice to emergencies, often in countries and regions that are hard to reach, neglected or forgotten by the international community.
While Doctors Without Borders teams work around the clock, they still need your help. Mic took a look at some of the toughest challenges facing refugees and internally displaced people, and how Doctors Without Borders is not only providing medical aid to these vulnerable communities but also working to make sure they are safe and treated with dignity.
Providing emergency medical care for people displaced by conflict in South Sudan
To date, about four million people have been forced to flee their homes in South Sudan, uprooted by violence that has been raging in the country since late 2013. More than half of these people are refugees who have fled to surrounding countries in search of safety, while the rest are displaced within the country. Amid the conflict, thousands have sought refuge in Protection of Civilians sites guarded by the UN Mission in South Sudan.
Survivor reports of sexual assault, looted and burned villages, and destroyed food reserves reached Doctors Without Borders, prompting the organization to send out mobile clinic teams to provide emergency medical care to these people in crisis, as well as speak out against violence towards civilians and humanitarian responders in the area. While fragile peace now holds across many parts of South Sudan, around 180,000 people were still seeking safety in six of these Protection of Civilians sites as of June 2019. Continuing their support, Doctors Without Borders is present in two of these sites, in Bentiu and Malakal.
The relative safety found within the camp comes with the risk of exposure to life-threatening diseases, scarcity of resources, and undignified living conditions. Doctors Without Borders is calling for conditions to be urgently improved, especially water and sanitation. “We still face many challenges—one is hunger. You may have sorghum grain, but you don’t know where to grind it, or you may not have money to take it to the grinding mill. Even if you have money to grind the sorghum, you may not have water to cook it,” says Martha*, a 27-year-old woman from east Malakal county.
Last year, the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Malakal camp admitted 51 people who attempted death by suicide. In response, Doctors Without Borders provided more than 2,400 mental health consultations in Malakal, including individual and group sessions. Teams also trained local staff and community members to offer support. This kind of care is imperative in the wake of extreme violence and conflict.
In the UN run Protection of Civilians site in Bentiu, Doctors Without Borders provides a full range of care, including treatment for tuberculosis, kala azar, measles, and HIV, as well as mental health services. Almost half of all patients seen in the outpatient department or admitted to Doctors Without Borders 160-bed hospital in Bentiu are children under five. Many of these children suffer from illnesses like severe acute diarrhea, skin diseases, eye infections, and diseases caused by worms, many of which can be avoided by improved water and sanitation.
Doctors Without Borders teams operate in 16 projects around South Sudan, from full scale hospitals to mobile clinics reaching the more remote areas of the country. The medical teams witness the heavy toll being forced from home has on these people, which manifests itself in things ranging from depression and anxiety, to extreme measures such as suicide. Bearing witness to these terrible conditions and the impact it has on the people in these communities is what keeps the MSF teams working around the clock to provide urgent medical care, and why support of their work is so pivotal.
Providing medical care and essential services for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, is the largest refugee settlement in the world. More than 700,000 ethnic Rohingya fled Myanmar for neighboring Bangladesh following a campaign of targeted violence against the community that began in August 2017. These refugees joined over 200,000 Rohingya who had been previously displaced by earlier cycles of violence and persecution in Myanmar.
The Rohingya community had extremely limited access to health care in Myanmar and now face poor living conditions in Bangladesh, making them extremely susceptible to disease. Since their arrival in August 2017, Doctors Without Borders has provided over 1.3 million medical consultations in the Rohingya refugee settlement.
Doctors Without Borders is working to address vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, pneumonia and diphtheria, which continue to be an issue in the camp. Since setting up fixed points in their health posts, reinforcing mobile teams with human resources, and implementing vaccinations with an outreach team, Doctors Without Borders has seen a decline in measles cases, as well as other infectious yet treatable diseases, in Cox's Bazaar.
In addition to vaccine-preventable diseases, the refugees of Cox's Bazaar are often subject to waterborne diseases, like Cholera, due to increasing levels of water contamination at the sites. To prevent the spread of waterborne disease, the staff at Doctors Without Borders has been working for years to drill boreholes and tube wells, install a gravity-fed water supply system, clean old latrines and construct sustainable newer additions, chlorinate buckets, as well as truck in clean water and distribute domestic water filters.
As part of Doctors Without Borders’s comprehensive approach to health care, the organization also provides mental health services in Cox’s Bazar, including counseling as well as clinical care. Currently, the organization offers a variety of services including individual and group counseling sessions as well as psychiatric treatments to help people process traumatic experiences and learn coping mechanisms. Their teams address both the physical and medical needs of the people they treat in order to help them live full and healthy lives, despite the massive obstacles placed in their path.
“Mental health care is unfamiliar to many people [in the Rohingya community] and often stigmatized,” Doctors Without Borders medical coordinator Jessica Patti says, “so we had to create awareness of our services.” Despite these challenges, Doctors Without Borders conducted 26,600 individual consultations in 2018 alone, and the organization continues to see strong interest in the program, with many patients following their treatment through final discharge.
But in order to keep these efforts going, Doctors Without Borders depends on donations. In order to do your part to help refugees around the world, consider donating via the Action Button below, or through the organization's donation page.
This post is sponsored by Doctors Without Borders.