“This cannot be real,” I keep telling myself.
For over two months, the world has been watching as more than 600,000 people have fled into Bangladesh from Myanmar.
Their arrival is heart-breaking; waves of women, children, and men move on both sides of the road, carrying their belongings and seeking a safe place to shelter their children from the rain.
Looking into their eyes, one can see the trauma that they have survived, the misery they feel for where they are now, and an unsettling anguish for the future.
Our job is to immediately provide basic neccesities to the people arriving in Bangladesh. In order to measure the scale of the crisis and plan our response, we talk of figures. Some days, there are 35,000 people crossing the border, on other days, 10,000 or less.
But these are not just figures or statistics that tell us the scale of this crisis. They are human beings with their lives, hopes, and any future aspirations now shattered by the harsh reality that meets them -- the thick mud under their bare feet, and an unrelenting rain on their backs.
In an area adjacent to the border of Myanmar, called Konarpara, 7,000 people have put up a makeshift settlement beside a river close to the entry point of Bangladesh.
These are not just figures or statistics that tell us the scale of this crisis. They are human beings with their lives, hopes, and any future aspirations now shattered by the harsh reality that meets them
Our teams were distributing food parcels to as many people as possible. They would cross the river to reach us, only to return to the patch of land where they have set up temporary shelter.
I try to put myself in their place: Abruptly being stripped of any social standing, to become a displaced person, losing fundamental references of personal, familial, and communal stability; to become uprooted, from being self-dependent to becoming dependent for nearly everything needed on a daily basis.
No one, simply no one, deserves to live like this. Further away from Konarpara, we drove to Jadimura, an area where we have mobile health teams providing essential health services.
“Today we have almost 400 people queuing,” explains one of our doctors.
“The majority of them are women and children. Yet, not all of them are sick. Some are simply desperate, and they want someone who will listen to their story,” she continues.
Since the onset of the crisis a month ago, we, the International Committee of the Red Cross, together with Bangladeshi Red Crescent Society, have decided to respond to the urgent needs of stranded families in the border areas.
We know that we’ve helped around 100,000 people so far through food assistance, water and sanitation interventions, health care, and communication services that have reconnected family members.
Yet, we also acknowledge that this is a mere drop in the ocean, compared to the immense need.
More can be done, and it should be done. The situation is overwhelming, and simply beyond the capacity of individual actors or one organisation alone.
For Bangladesh and its people, this crisis is not new. They have been helping for the past three decades. However, the sheer scale of this crisis is also pushing the limits of the host community beyond imagination.
People here need everything, because they have nothing. They need food, water, shelter, health care, but more importantly, they need hope.
As a humanitarian organisation, we can provide short to mid-term help, but the harder question that must be answered is: When will this suffering end?
Ikhtiyar Aslanov is the Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Bangladesh.