Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, president of Caritas Internationalis, the global federation of the Catholic charity, visited a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh and called on the international community to continue to help the beleaguered and displaced Muslim minority. Cardinal Tagle, 61, the archbishop of Manila
, kicked off his two-day visit to Bangladesh on Dec. 3 by visiting refugee families, aid workers including Caritas staff and government officials in Cox's Bazar district. Cox's Bazar in southeast Bangladesh accommodates more than one million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled deadly persecution in Myanmar's Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017. Cardinal Tagle spoke to several families at Kutupalong refugee camp, the largest of the 30 refugee shelters in Cox's Bazar. He visited aid distribution points, child-friendly spaces and model houses set up by Caritas. He then talked to aid workers and volunteers including those from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and also made a courtesy call on Muhammad Abul Kalam, head of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission (RRRC), the main government body that oversees refugee and relief operations. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle visits Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar with Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, president of Caritas Bangladesh, on Dec. 3. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)
The visit has brought both joy and sadness for Cardinal Tagle, who has "seen news and footage of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people" and his heart "bled for their suffering." "Now, coming to the camp, a part of me rejoices that they are given the attention, especially the dignity, they deserve. But at the same time a part of me continues to be sad because I wonder if this is a permanent of state of life for them or if this is temporary," Cardinal Tagle told ucanews.com. "I cannot imagine how parents would respond if their children asked them what is their future. If I had a child here, I would not know how to give an answer." Refugee couple Jahid Hossain, 35, and Rehena, 30, said they were glad to see Cardinal Tagle. "We have told him that we are glad to see him. We shared with him our story of pain and suffering, and we asked for help so that we can return home one day as citizens of Myanmar," Hossain told ucanews.com. Cardinal Tagle said he appreciated Caritas' support for the refugees. "I am very happy to see the work of Caritas Bangladesh
is excellent. It really embodies what Caritas is all about. But I am also happy to see that Caritas Bangladesh, which is very small, is able to do its mission because of the collaboration of many other Caritas members. This really gives me hope that if we come together we can make a difference," he said.
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Caritas has operated in Kutupalong camp since the latest influx of Rohingya started arriving in August 2017
. It has so far spent about 750 million taka (US$8.92 million) in helping refugees from its emergency appeal fund created with donations from Caritas members across the globe. It has also received and spent 8 million taka from UNHCR. The Joint Response Program of Caritas has focused on comprehensive support for the Rohingya, said James Gomes, regional director of Caritas Chittagong. About 40,000 households or 240,000 refugees have benefited from Caritas food support, while 10,000 families have received non-food items and constructed more than 1,000 shelters, he said. Caritas has also distributed gas cylinders and stoves to 20,000 families to reduce the need to cut trees for cooking, and it has given tree and vegetable saplings to more than 26,000 refugee families. "In 2019, our main focus will be site development, pathways development and improvement, bridges construction, tree plantations and construction of more durable shelters," Gomes said.