‘Women’s Day’ gives Myanmar refugees in camps stigma-free health care

Canadian Red Cross initiative helps female refugees access contraceptives, health products

Woman standing in front of her presentation which is projecting on a screen.
Program officer of emergency programming, Andrea Peters discusses providing humanitarian aid for the Myanmar Refugee Crisis at Centennial’s Progress Campus in Toronto.  Russul Sahib/Toronto Observer

A “Women’s Day” initiative that provides Myanmar refugees living in camps with contraceptives and health products is just one example of how the Canadian Red Cross has broadened its services beyond providing basic necessities, a staffer says.

The expanded services allows the thousands of refugees living in one of the two refugee camps serviced by the Canadian Red Cross in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, to experience a sense of normalcy, said Andrea Peters, program officer of emergency programming.

Peters visited Centennial College’s Progress campus on Feb. 8 for an educational talk on international aid and what life is like for the refugees nearly two years after they fled from Myanmar.

“There is a sense of normal life that has been established now. People have communities, they have their neighbours close to them,” Peters said.

There are more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees living in 36 different locations in the Cox’s Bazar area, according to the UN Refugee Agency. The Canadian Red Cross is working in two of the camps, where it provides on-the-ground medical aid and basic necessities, offers support to help with family reunification and safe spaces onsite that help protect women and children from possible trafficking.

Once a month, “Women’s Day” gives women living in the camps a chance to  visit a health centre and access contraceptives and information on menstruation, sexual intimacy and personal hygiene. Men are not allowed in order to reduce the stigma refugee women may face in their communities, said Peters.

Since 2017, about 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims have fled western Myanmar’s Rakhine state and are now living in camps in Bangladesh. The latest flood of refugees began in the summer of that year when a militant group known as Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked 30 police and army posts. Troops and local Buddhist mobs responded by attacking Rohingya villages, burning homes and killing people, in what investigators with the UN Human Rights Council called genocide.

Since then, the Canadian Red Cross has provided aid in Bangladesh through an emergency response unit as well as permanent health posts in the camps, which provide continuous medical care. The Canadian Red Cross also provides food, shelter and psychological counselling for those experiencing trauma. Yet, NPR recently reported that the Rohingya refugees may remain in Bangladesh for longer than expected, and aid workers are preparing long-term plans to support the them.

There is a sense of normal life that has been established now.

—Andrea Peters

Damario Squire, a student in Centennial’s international development program, says that while his classes have discussed such crises, Peters’ talk illustrated what many refugees experience daily. The Centennial program teaches students humanitarian approaches to global challenges.

Peters “highlighted the concerns that people in developing countries face on a daily basis. Sometimes we take for granted the access to hospitals, we take for granted having clean water,” Squire said.

In October of 2018, the Bangladeshi foreign secretary, Shahidul Haque met with the Myanmarese foreign secretary, Myint Thu, to negotiate the resettlement of refugees to their homes in Myanmar. An agreement to begin resettling the refugees was reached, despite the United Nations warning that the genocide of the Rohingya people continued in the country. One month after the agreement, many fearful refugees refused to return to Myanmar.

While the future may be unknown for many families, Peters says that there is still hope in the refugee camps, which is often overlooked.

“There is hope, dignity; there is joy and there is still laughter and a lot of resilience with the people that have been displaced,” Peters said.

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Posted: Apr 30 2019 8:43 pm
Filed under: News