For migrants lost in the middle of the sea, after fleeing persecution and war, these three words mean all the world.
After the storm, exposed and alone
When Cyclone Mora struck south-western Bangladesh at the end of May, the storm had a devastating impact on the informal settlements in Cox’s Bazar, then home to some 75,000 displaced people from Myanmar who fled violence in parts of northern Rakhine state.
Whether travelling by train, road, foot or plane, migrants and asylum seekers often find themselves in extremely vulnerable situations. They can be subject to substandard water and close quarters where they are susceptible to infectious disease. They may feel isolated, depressed, cut off from a home far away. Around the world, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, along with the IFRC and the ICRC, engage with migrants to help them cope with immediate physical and emotional needs, as well as longer-term but equally important goals. The Red Crescent of Azerbaijan, for example, eases the transition of migrants from Afghanistan, South- East Asia and elsewhere by providing free language courses, pre-requisites for work or education. “We also seek to familiarize them with our culture by organizing events and visits to historical sites, museums and theatres,” says teacher and course founder Sona Hajiyeva. The Red Crescent also runs information sessions on first aid, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and healthy lifestyles. Here are a few more examples of what the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is doing to protect and help migrants and those they leave behind.
Made of mud walls with plastic sheeting roofs wrapped over bamboo poles, these shelters could not withstand the force of the cyclone’s winds and rain. Possessions and food stocks were also lost to the storm, driving this already marginalized population deeper into crisis.
The Bangladesh Red Crescent Society provided shelter, health services, clean water and sanitation. But even before the storm, Red Crescent volunteers such as Tamjid Hossen Naim were giving psychosocial support to new arrivals. In recent months, the needs in Cox Bazaar have only increased, with estimates on the number of people fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh exceeding 400,000 by the end of September.
Every day, Niam and other volunteers navigated the muddy paths and hills of Kutupalong settlement to offer psychosocial support and protection services. Listening skills are a critical asset, he says, particularly when dealing with especially vulnerable groups, such as children or unaccompanied minors. Nearly 60 per cent of the new arrivals are girls and boys under the age of 18. “We cannot go to school because in the morning we have to do our chores to help our families,” says a young girl in the Kutupalong settlement.
A significant number of children arriving in Bangladesh are alone or separated from their parents, according to a survey by the Bangladesh Red Crescent. This is of particular concern because of their high vulnerability to physical, sexual and psychological violence, discrimination and social exclusion.
“Both of my parents died in the fighting,” says an 8-year-old boy. “I saw it happen to them. I ran and a man rescued me. He took me with the other people and left me here in this place.”
Photo: Jesús Cornejo/ICRC
In the southern state of Chiapas, the Santa Martha shelter in Salto del Agua, is one of the first that northbound migrants reach after crossing the Guatemalan border into Mexico. Having walked for days on end, they often arrive with foot injuries, which volunteers from the Mexican Red Cross tend to with diligence and care.
Further north, in Ciudad Serdán, in south-eastern Mexico, a doctor from the Mexican Red Cross provides basic healthcare to migrants at an aid station strategically placed between a highway and a railway line. Nearby, another volunteer offers them the chance to make free phone calls to loved ones.
In Honduras, meanwhile, volunteers from the Honduran Red Cross welcome returned migrants who have been deported from Mexico through Guatemala. The volunteers provide prehospital care or help them get in touch with their families.
These are just a few examples of what the Red Cross Societies of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico are doing to provide essential emergency services to people who make the arduous and dangerous journey north every year in order to escape chronic poverty and violence.
For 20 years, more than 1 million Tajik families have relied on income from loved ones doing seasonal work in Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation. Now, the three National Societies in the region are working together on ‘the train of humanity’, as the initiative is called, to provide health and legal information to migrant workers as they travel between the three countries.
Armed with information on the risks of tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases, volunteers from the Red Crescent Society of Tajikistan board the train in the country’s capital Dushanbe. Teams from the Kazakh Red Crescent get on the train in Kazakhstan’s western Atyrau province, followed by volunteers from the Russian Red Cross, who join the journey in the south-western city of Volgograd.
“Many people are oblivious to their rights and unaware of their entitlement as legal migrant workers to basic healthcare,” says Tajikistan Red Crescent legal expert Rano Saidova, who is a team member on the train of humanity, providing first-aid tips and basic information on infectious diseases and workers’ rights, especially in relation to medical treatment. “It means a lot to the people in the train that someone is thinking about them and understands their situation,” says Saidova. “People told us that they often feel isolated and alone.”
Migration also takes an immense toll on the families and friends left behind. These photos taken for the ICRC by photographer José Cendon help tell their story.
Mamadou was 55 years old when he went missing. His wife still keeps his carpentry tools, which she shows laid out on a mat. She keeps them in case he comes back, so “he can work and we can have the same life as before”.
Another young man, also named Mamadou, was 20 years old when he went missing. “He grew up fishing and loved the sea more than anything else in the world,” says his mother, Faousseuk Fall. “And the sea took him away forever.”
For the loved ones of the men and women who are never heard from again, the ICRC and the Senegalese Red Cross Society provide support groups, literacy classes, education and training, and help to set up small businesses.
Photo: Jesús Cornejo/ICRC
Are tsunamis in Hollywood films realistic or pure fiction?
Migrants and refugees know what it means to be cut off from society, and from their loved ones and cultures far away. At a time defined by separation, let’s listen to what they have to say about coping and connecting in the age of Covid-19.