Calgary doctors encounter harrowing tales of survival at refugee camp in Bangladesh
Three family physicians from Calgary encountered the aftermath of the attempted ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar at the hands of security forces during the trio’s time in a refugee camp and the doctors are now sharing their experiences.
Myanmar’s security forces have recently decimated Rohingya villages during brutal raids that left a body count numbering in the thousands. Hundreds of thousands of survivors fled Myanmar’s borders and found temporary shelter in camps in neighbouring countries including Bangladesh.
Dr. Fizza Rafiq, Dr. Fozia Alvi and Dr. Sameena Bajwa agreed to assist in the refugee camps weeks ago after an opportunity surfaced through the Humanitarian Islamic Circle of North America. The three doctors, all mothers, cleared their patient schedules at their respective practices and embarked on their trip to Asia. “Three crazy women on this crazy trip,” said Bajwa of their journey into the unknown.
After arriving in Bangladesh, the doctors faced lineups of roughly 400 patients, some with life-threatening illness or recent amputations done without medical assistance, and limited resources to treat ailments.
“Some people have brought their elderly relatives, holding them on their back,” said Alvi.
“I have never seen a situation like that in my life,” added Bajwa.
Alvi says a pregnant woman who had come to term was in dire need of an emergency cesarean section but lacked the required registration card necessary for treatment at a local hospital.
“That baby is going to die. That woman is going to die,” said Alvi of the heartbreaking situation. “I am sitting here and cannot do anything.”
Rafiq says conversations with patients, including a specific talk with one woman, shed light on the barbarity of the attacks on the Rohingya people and the challenges the survivors faced during their escape.
“She said I have nobody with me,” recalled Rafiq of the woman’s story. “In my village they cut all the men and leave them and we came alone. Fourteen days in the jungle and we were eating banana leaves to survive.”
An estimated 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have relocated to Bangladesh seeking safety. The Canadian government has committed $25 million to assist during the crisis.
The three women say the things they witnessed in Bangladesh will remain with them for some time and all have faced restless nights. The time spent together in Asia also cemented their friendship. “I think we feel like more of a team and we have the same kind of vision.”
The doctors say their return to Canadian soil has not ended their commitment to help those in need and their proud of their effort that likely saved a number of lives.
With files from CTV’s Brad MacLeod