Life on the fringes of suffering.


by Nathan Burns, Founder

Earlier in the day, in a high-level health sector meeting, we listened as bureaucrats squabbled over bragging rights for health posts in their region and used platitudes and jargon whilst hypothesising over which clinics should be closed to ‘consolidate services’. Numbers were flashed, reports printed on state-of-the-art colour printers were presented and I just watched, as paid humanitarians fought for their piece of the aid pie.

Meanwhile, life on the fringes of this suffering continues to unfold. It’s the end of the day now. A hot afternoon, and we’re standing on a hilltop looking back at the vast miasma of the Kutapalong Refugee camp. We’ve stopped in front of a makeshift shelter – a white tarpaulin, splashed with UNHCR insignia that is home to a family of seven. A cluster of children crowd the ‘entrance’ staring blankly at the strange white men. Their mother will not look at us; she averts her eyes and covers her face, ashamed at what her life has been reduced to.

Their shelter is located on the fringe of the camp, at the edge of a small grove of trees. Compared to the rest of the dusty, bare camp – it is relatively cool. A slight breeze blows through the area, rustling leaves and wafting smoke away.

It could almost be pleasant here, an idyllic little campsite on the edge of the forest.

But it’s far from ideal. This family are some of the stragglers – the last ones to make it into these massive, throbbing camps. They and hundreds of others have been bunkered down on the Myanmar border for weeks, cowering in fear until an opportunity presented itself to make the run into Bangladesh.

Their shelters are token; the bare minimum that UNHCR can provide and their surrounds are transient, at best. The cooling forest behind them will be gone in days, stripped bare by refugees searching for fuel to cook with. There are no basic services here on the fringes – no latrines, no running water, no medical posts. Their clothes are putrid, if they have any at all. The children are snotty and coughing and their bellies round with malnutrition.

The people on the fringes are suffering immensely. Meetings and printed presentations will not cut the mustard. For them the clock is ticking. 


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