Mounting tragedy for people fleeing Myanmar

By IFRC

When Rehana Begum, 20, fled Myanmar for Bangladesh she was heavily pregnant with twins, struggling for three days across mountains and spending two further days sleeping on the side of the road once she crossed the border.

On the day she arrived at Unchiprang camp, an informal settlement for new arrivals, she gave birth to a boy and a girl. The baby boy died during childbirth, and her husband Sulaiman had to bury him in an unmarked grave in the mud next to their tent.

Rehana and Sulaiman also have a three-year-old son. The small family lives in a tent with no water or food and the exhausted mother prays every day for help to arrive. She doesn’t know how she will take care of her new born or deal with the loss of her son.

The humanitarian crisis in Cox’s Bazar is one of the region’s largest man-made humanitarian crises in decades. More than 415,000 people have fled Rakhine State in Myanmar, arriving in Bangladesh in desperate conditions. As the informal settlements and camps swell with the heavy influx of new arrivals, access to shelter, water, sanitation, food and health services are urgent priorities.

Bangladesh Red Crescent Society volunteers and staff are on the ground, doing all they can to support people as they arrive.

The IFRC has launched a revised emergency appeal for 12.7 million Swiss francs to support to Bangladesh Red Crescent to respond to the most urgent needs of the 100,000 new arrivals from Myanmar within food, shelter, healthcare, capacity and resources. IFRC is urgently seeking more contribution to the appeal which is being implemented in coordination with other actors.

Gone but not forgotten: Migrants, mothers and the missing

By ICRC

On 30 August 2017, on the International Day of the Disappeared, the ICRC convened a discussion at the Humanitarium to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of people missing in the world today. We heard from Estela Barnes de Carlotto, whose activism after her daughter disappeared was a catalyst for the international community to sit up and notice the plight of the missing. The event is part of the ICRC Conference Cycle on Generating respect for the law, which aims at addressing the importance of international humanitarian law (IHL) and prevention efforts.

Introduction

  • Mary Werntz, Deputy Director of Operations, ICRC

Moderator

  • Vincent Bernard, Head of ICRC Law and Policy Forum and Editor-in-Chief of the International Review of the Red Cross

Panelists

  • Estela Carlotto - President of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo
  • José Pablo Baraybar do Carmo - Forensic Coordinator, ICRC
  • Carla Uriarte –Psychologist and mental health and psychosocial advisor, ICRC

Panel discussion

Mary Werntz, the ICRC's deputy head of operations, introduced the event, reminding the audience of the human impact these disappearances have. She noted the important contribution the family associations of South America made in leading the struggle against forgetfulness, and forcing States as well as the international community to pay more attention.

The event is held on the 40th years since the first march on the Plaza de Mayo, a weekly vigil by the mothers of Argentina's "disappeared". Mary emphasised how the problem of the missing is still an urgent one, as there are many complex contexts in which there is a responsibility to clarify the fate of the missing.

The event moderator, Vincent Bernard, introduced the speakers and the main themes of the day: looking back to the origins of this commemorative day but also acknowledging the enduring similarities of the painful situations families find themselves in.

Estella Barnes de Carlotto spoke about her personal story, of losing her daughter and her tireless work to discover her fate and that of others in the same situation. She emphasised the complexity of the relationship between her public activism and her private pain: "It was then that we learned, for the first time, the new meaning of the word disappeared".

Estela spoke of the administrative and bureaucratic hurdles, as well as the emotional journey she has been on. Working on the national and international stage, she described her struggle to ensure the disappeared were not forgotten and their rights – and the rights of their families – were respected.

The fight to remember a disappeared person's identity was a theme picked up by ICRC forensic coordinator Jose Pablo Baraybar.

"Today we are here to remember all of those whose names did not make the headlines", Jose Pablo opened his contemporary intervention reminding us that some lives are more "grieve-able" than others. He also describes the posthumous rights of the dead to be remembered and to have a solid identity, invoking the scale of the current migration crisis as a painful example.

Finally, ICRC mental health and psychosocial advisor Carla Uriarte shifted the focus from the public dimension of remembrance to the private pain of the families from a psychological perspective.

"Today is a day for remembrance, and mothers and the families remember until the day they die and it can overshadow all other aspects". This ambiguous loss is a complicated and lonely process and Carla explored the many different psychosocial elements this may take. She presented some interventions which can be offered to help relieve this pain, for instance training professionals who interact with the families of the missing (for instance forensic specialists) and creation of support systems, as well as normalising the feeling around ambiguous loss by explaining the concept.

She then showed an excerpt of the film of mothers in Armenia and Azerbaijan whose children had disappeared and how ICRC support groups helped them heal.

Estela Carlotto concluded with final words on how her struggle – and the struggle of families like hers – was motivated by love. As Estela put it, "clinging stubbornly to love have borne fruit". Despite fearing for her life, after 36 years she found her grandson, who had been born after her daughter had been disappeared.

Using corporate disaster knowledge to ease human suffering in flood ravaged Texas

By Heather Shampine, American Red Cross Volunteer, Massachusetts Chapter

Red Cross volunteer Heather Shampine, Senior Project Manager of Emergency Planning with National Grid, spent two weeks in Texas responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Heather wrote a two-part blog entry for the American Red Cross describing what it’s like to respond to a massive disaster, how she made new friends from across the Red Cross, and what it’s like to experience life-changing events while helping people profoundly affected by the flood waters brought by Hurricane Harvey. 

September 6, 2017:

In the nearly three years I have been in Emergency Planning at National Grid, I have learned a great deal about what it means to plan, prepare and that an effective response to emergencies can make the difference to our customers. Those lessons inspired me to pursue my Masters in Emergency Management. While I have experience with responding to utility emergencies and have an academic understanding of disasters and their impact on people, I really do not have much in the way of field experience.

The Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) seemed to be a solution to that need. On any given day, the DAT teams in Massachusetts respond and assist victims of house fires with basic comfort needs, supplies, recovery information, and simple, caring comfort. They also provide those services for major disasters like floods, wildfires, hurricanes and more, all over the United States and even internationally.

I signed up online to volunteer for DAT, and very quickly I was in the database, vetted and ready to get trained and get started locally. Instead, I received a call-to action for Massachusetts volunteers for Hurricane Harvey a few days later, and found out I could ask to be deployed after some basic training was completed. After a check on remaining vacation days, checking in with my managers and understanding how it might impact my school schedule, (and securing pet sitters!), I was on my way!

On September 1st, I arrived at the Austin Convention Center, the command post for the relief efforts in that district. It was interesting to see that the command post looked and operated very much like a National Grid emergency operations center. As volunteers arrived from cities and towns across the country, we were asked to report to the staff shelter to await our local assignments.

The staff shelters, this one located in a local church, are just like the shelters set-up and manned for the disaster victims, with limited space and just the essentials. As the shelter need grew and the need to quickly prepare for more volunteers grew, I jumped in to assist the staff in building cots and getting ready for what would be just under 200 volunteers for that night. After a less-than-cozy night’s sleep, we all readied to move on to where we were needed most.

I was assigned to a Houston bus and I volunteered to be the “bus boss,” shepherding the volunteers to their designated location, and essentially just ensuring the same number got off as got on. As we traveled, the need to keep Houston HQ informed of our status and expected arrival time was crucial as well as working with them to virtually check in the 54 volunteers on “the Austin bus.” Being bus boss had its perks as I was able to get to know more of the volunteers and had a bit of fun on the way.

screen-shot-2017-09-26-at-1-10-24-pm.png

Arrival in Houston had us checking in straight away to a hotel (that was a surprise!) to await our final assignments. Coordinating thousands of volunteers is an enormous, time-consuming task. I found that “standing by” was a frustrating reality as I and my fellow Red Crossers were are all super anxious to help.

On Sunday, the Austin bus volunteers who were not already pulled for various assignments across southern Texas were assigned to shelter care at the George R. Brown Convention Center, which as of this writing housed approximately 2,000 clients (down from 10,000). A shelter tour and instructions to report that evening for a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift was exciting but also daunting as many had not slept to prepare for 9+ days of the graveyard shift! But, you quickly remind yourself it’s a small sacrifice to help the traumatized, displaced folks of Houston and the outlying areas who likely now have no home to return to and are sleeping on cots with thousands of other people.

As of today, Wednesday the 6th, approximately 1,600 people remain at GRB where my role has been to register them into the shelter, provide information such as their dorm assignment, meal times, what services are available, and where they can get clothing, and supplies. I have met some great people who now know me by name and who are thankful for the Red Cross and the countless volunteers who are giving their time and comfort. I’ve even met a few four-legged evacuees as GRB has a dorm for folks who were able to bring their pets or animals. That has included dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, a pig, a snake or two, and we’ve heard a squirrel! Friends for Life staffs a section in the pet family dorm everyday providing food, crates, toys, bedding, and veterinary services.

The shelter clients’ stories are heartbreaking and we see so many individuals and families that are completely devastated by something they never thought would happen to them. But, I’ve also been incredibly impressed by how people staying at the shelter have stepped up and helped strangers there with everything from pushing them in wheelchairs, to getting them food, and simply providing comfort. It’s truly inspiring.

Sometime in the next few days I will be reporting to a new assignment at Houston HQ to assist in Red Cross damage assessment. I am super excited to learn more about another way in which I can help in this disaster and use some of my National Grid skills and training. I am so grateful for my colleagues in Emergency Planning, and especially my VP, Mike McCallan, for supporting me in this unforgettable opportunity to serve.

rco_blog_img_natgrid.jpg

As in storm duty, it’s easy to get lost in what day it is, become exhausted from the shift and the work, to interact with stressed out and sometimes angry folks you’re helping, and to miss home. In the end, for me and the other volunteers, it’s temporary; for the Texans impacted by this unprecedented disaster, the effects are long-lasting. So, we step up and do what we can to say yes to the call and make a difference.

 

Missing migrants: Forensic experts from Asia-Pacific emphasize upon information-sharing

Missing migrants: Forensic experts from Asia-Pacific emphasize upon information-sharing

The ICRC hosted a full-day workshop on forensic work being done in the humanitarian context, during the recent Asia Pacific Medico Legal Agencies' Association (APMLA) annual conference. Hosted by the Central Institute of Forensic Science that comes under the Thai Ministry of Justice, the conference was organized from 17 to 19 July 2017, in Chonburi province, Thailand. Over 180 forensic science specialists who deal with humanitarian issues gathered from 17 countries in the Asia-Pacific for the conference.

Read More

First convoy of relief in 3 years reaches residents of Deir Alzour

By Anita Dullard

Thousands of people stranded in Syria’s eastern city of Deir Alzour, received crucial food and medicine aid of Friday as Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) accessed the city by land for the first time in three years. 80,000 residents received relief items, delivered by the convoy of 35 trucks supported by IFRC, and 7 from the ICRC.

Deir Alzour has suffered a difficult and long siege, which has meant humanitarian partners were only been able to provide relief through air-drops.  For the past 17 months, food, including seven million bread packs produced with the support of ICRC, have reached communities in Deir Alzour via 308 air-drops. These food parcels have been distributed daily by SARC volunteers during the last year.

SARC provides relief in hard to reach areas such as Deir Alzour whenever it is able to do so, often in partnership with the ICRC, to deliver aid provided by the Red Cross Movement and other partners. Secure, sustained humanitarian access is vital to prevent further unnecessary suffering.