WHEN Nick Prince looks out on the peaceful surrounds of his Spargo Creek property, he finds it hard to comprehend the world he knows exists.
Mr Prince has recently returned home from Bangladesh where has been working with the Red Cross supporting those affected by the Rohingya refugee crisis which has seen 700,000 flee from Myanmar.
In his public health role with the Red Cross, Mr Prince has spent two six-week stints this year living in rapidly decaying tents, attempting to help a population which has flooded a once peaceful beach side resort town fleeing their homeland.
“It’s almost like a parallel dimension,” he said.
“You’ve got this world here where we have a feeling of security and everything is available and then you are transported into another world.
“It’s almost like a dream, like a movie that you’re drawn into. Everything exists. The people are real. The smells are real. Everything is real and then you leave and you come back here and it’s so different.
“It’s hard to quantify that everything can still go on in the same world. The dream doesn’t wake up for the people there.”
In August 2017, almost 700,000 people fled over the Bangladesh border to avoid ethnic and religious persecution by Myanmar's security forces.
Rohingyas are a Muslim minority in Myanmar regarded by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
The Rohingyas have lived in Myanmar for generations and the Bangladesh government has called for Myanmar to take back the refugees.
Mr Prince said the refugees had settled at Cox’s Bazaar, once a picturesque holiday town for Bangladesh’s wealthy.
It is an area of just 12 square kilometres with one road in and out of the region.
“It’s just transformed from hills covered in vegetation and trees to a sea of bamboo and plastic sheeting,” Mr Prince said.
“It’s quite shocking to see. Until you go into the camp you don’t realise how it is.
“You go to the highest point and it’s just a mess of tarpaulin, bamboo structures and twisting muddy tracks on the hills.
“But if you look at the size you have 60,000 people per square kilometre, which is one-and-a-half times more dense than Manilla the most dense city in the world and we’re not talking high rises here either.”
Mr Prince worked alongside a team of international doctors and nurses in the Red Cross Red Crescent Emergency Hospital Tent, which he said could only be described as something similar to MASH.
He said one year on, conditions were now more dire than ever before.
“The huge influx came over in a very short period of time, but you are seeing people now living in a very congested environment,” he said.
“There are exactly the same resources as there was a year ago and unfortunately it’s no longer in the mind of the public.
“I would say right now the public health risk is much greater now than it has ever been because of the weather including the Monsoon but also you’ve got the upcoming cyclone season.
“The structures that are in place like the emergency hospital will not withstand a cyclone. And then you’ve got people living in tents, it’s going to be a massive, massive disaster.”
In his public health role, Mr Prince has worked on ways to prevent disease spreading throughout the camp, but it is a battle he admits will not be easy won.
“Diseases we are seeing are much more conducive to an urban environment, dengue for example is not something you would have normally seen in the area,” he said.
“But now you’ve got the stagnant water, rubbish has all come into Cox’s Bazaar, there’s malaria, a huge number of diphtheria cases which wasn’t present in Bangladesh before.
“We know there are other disasters happening in the world, but this is the largest refugee camp in the world. We have people who have fled persecution with no new political solution being discussed.
“We have children being born, we have the elderly. It’s a massive humanitarian disaster.”
Mr Prince said initially the focus of the Red Cross hospital was on emergency relief from the crossing of borders in the early days, but was now looking at chronic diseases.
“It’s quite a big dilemma who you treat and you’ve got to know there are some things you just can’t do,” he said
“Unfortunately, if it requires some sort of intensive care, you’re better off not doing the treatment. It gives you a real insight to what is happening in the camp.
“Infection can spread through a hospital quickly, clean water and vaccinations are the two things that will save lives. Water is available which is filtered and chlorinated, any visitors need to wash their hands because the risk of cross infection is huge.
“One of the biggest challenge is the emergency obstetric maternity cases we see, we have two obstetricians as midwives. Even though you have primary health care and maternity services throughout the camp, they are not equipped for complicated births and because of that, you do have huge number of still births, maternal deaths, you are getting extreme cases coming to the hospital and it’s just not enough.”
Mr Prince said Australia punched above its weight in numbers on the ground, but more financial support was needed.
“I think the Australian population need to remember that the crisis isn’t over,” he said.
“From my experience, last year I was in South Sudan, and before that I was in Jordan for the Syrian crisis, I don’t think I’ve seen anything of this scale and this potential to be such a humanitarian disaster. It’s hard to imagine in this day and age that something like this is occurring. The people are extremely vulnerable.
“Now they are in Bangladesh, it has had a huge impact on the host communities and although we can see the refugees in being in need, it’s important not to forget the host country which itself is already quite vulnerable.”
Mr Prince said he does the work simply to help out where he can.
“I do it because I feel I have a skill I can offer having worked in the environment, I can adapt to the different contexts,” he said.
“Like any humanitarian worker, it’s about how can I make a difference, how can we help?
“You want to transport skills, you want to leave knowing you’re not leaving a gap, and there are local officials that are going to continue this work.
“There’s a huge spirit and the community are obviously doing their best under really difficult conditions, but it’s not an excuse to say it’s okay, it’s not. At the end of the day, it’s something that shouldn’t be happening.”
To Learn more, go to redcross.org.au/myanmar-crisis-appeal