• From left, Dr.Wisoot Binlateh, Praya Lundberg, Thapanee Lesrichai, Dr. Zakee Phithakkumpol, and Arunee Achakulwisut
  • Praya Lundberg

Crying out for help

lifestyle May 15, 2018 01:00


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As the most one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh spend their first Ramadan away from home, UNHCR and its partners appeal for support from Thais

THE FIGURES say it all: 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their home in recent years and almost 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute. Some become refugees, others are known as internally displaced or stateless, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) freely admits that it is struggling to meet their needs. 

It is the only organisation mandated to act as a safety net for the protection of refugees and internally displaced people in the world, to provide shelter, clean water, healthcare, education and other urgent needs to the millions of refugees from Syria, Yemen and Iraq to Africa and many other war-torn countries.

Closer to home, the agency is currently urgently appealing for the funds it needs to assist children, women and men in the refugee camps of Bangladesh as Ramadan draws near. 

UNHCR in partnership with the Sheikhul Islam and the Council for Humanitarian Networking of Sheikhul Islam Office in Thailand launched the appeal last week at a press conference held at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. They are calling for donations to help them support these Muslim communities in Bangladesh who will be spending the holy month in informal settlements outside their homeland for the first time and in dreadful living conditions without enough food or proper shelter. 

The global refugee crisis is at its highest level since World War II and the figures continue to increase. Little wonder then that UNHCR is constantly asking the global population, and Thais of all beliefs, to give generously.

from left, Dr.Wisoot Binlateh, Praya Lundberg, Thapanee Letsrichai, Dr. Zakee Phithakkumpol, Arunee Achakulwisut

According to UNHCR, almost 900,000 Rohingya refugees and more than 330,000 vulnerable Bangladeshis live in ramshackle communities in Cox’s Bazar. While the Rohingya have been persecuted for decades inside Myanmar, the crisis only came to the world’s attention last August when tens of thousands were forced to flee by land and sea. The Kutupalong-Balukhali site, where some 600,000 refugees are now living, is today the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world. The Bangladesh Government and the Bangladeshi people, UNHCR stresses, have responded with extraordinary generosity and hospitality. 

Now those already precarious conditions for the refugees and the ongoing emergency response are about to be further challenged by the approaching monsoon season, Rohingya refugees are living in places at risk of landslides and floods, in what could become a disaster on top of the current emergency.

Dr Zakee Phithakkumpol, Deputy Secretary of Sheikhul Islam notes that since the Arab spring, a revolutionary wave of both violent and non-violent demonstrations and protests, started in 2010, the called sectarian war has become particularly complicated and, as in most cases of conflict, civilians are the most affected. 

“War, conflict, and persecution force 

 innocent people to become refugees. It’s not by choice that a person becomes a refugee; they have to leave everything behind and seek asylum in a country that is not their own. The refugee crisis requires the global community’s attention and support to improve the quality of living for those forced to flee,” he says.

“During Ramadan, many Rohingya refugees will be observing the holy month in exile. These women, men, and children 

 have endured dangerous and traumatic journeys to seek asylum in a safe country. Now, they are facing another crisis as when the monsoon rains hit Bangladesh, their lives will become even harder. The refugees might have bypassed Thailand but that’s no excuse for ignoring this humanitarian crisis. The refugee issue requires every country in the world to act together.”

Dr Wisoot Binlateh, director of the Southern office of Sheikhul Islam’s affairs and coordination in Thailand, concurs, adding: “Ramadan is a very important time for Muslims to reflect on the hardships occurring around the world. It is an opportunity to share what we have with those less fortunate.

“Ramadan is a valuable time for family and community bonding, and to think of those who are not able to be with their loved ones during the holy month,” he adds.

“Humanitarian principles share the same core values with the fundamental teaching of every religion: to have sympathy towards fellow human beings in need regardless of race or nationality,” says Arunee Achakulwisut, an officer with the Private Sector Partnerships (PSP).

UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador in Thailand, actress Praya “Pu” Lundberg, supports this partnership, saying she is honoured to see this important collaboration working to support refugees. 

“I deeply appreciate the Sheikhul Islam Office’s demonstration of kindness and generosity towards refugees,” she says. 

“For the past four years through my work with UNHCR, I have come to realise what hardship really means. This Ramadan, hundreds of thousands of Muslim are facing a bigger crisis than we have ever known. I’m quite religious. I’m 

 Buddhist, but I have many Muslim friends, I understand how important this holy month is to them. I also pray every day, and I believe those people are sure to pray as well. It is very sad for those refugees, the Rohingya in Bangladesh, who are unable to perform this very important spiritual belief at home. Ramadan is a very special period for every Muslim and for these refugees in Bangladesh, it will also mean the onset of the monsoon, flooding and disease. 

“UNHCR certainly has a clear and consistent plan to help refugees in every part of the world, but I just don’t see how they will make the way home in the near future.” 

Praya has travelled to camps in Jordan and Thailand to witness UNHCR’s frontline work, and meetings with refugees have helped her to better understand and amplify their cause. 

“The images of Syrian elderly, children, mothers and fathers, lack of food and fresh water, are still vividly imprinted on my mind. I haven’t had a chance to meet with the Rohingya but I hope I will. The refugee issue is very complicated and working to resolve it requires not only patience but also understanding. We may not have solutions very soon but we can help make their lives a little less bad. No one want to leave their homes, I encourage everybody to donate to UNHCR’s work,” she says.

Fund raised from this campaign will allow UNHCR to provide emergency shelter for Rohingya refugees residing in areas of high risk of landslides and flooding in Bangladesh. 

Donations will be spent during and after Ramadan to make a difference to the lives of refugees, especially the most vulnerable people such as orphans, single mothers or widows.


- Donations can be made at through The Council for Humanitarian Networking of Sheikhul Islam Office for Rohingya and Refugees, Islamic Bank of Thailand, account no 034-108-7440 or through www.UNHCR.or.th, #RamadanforRefugees.