A Refugee Camp in the Heart of Ottawa

June 15, 2010 7:37 am

Upon entering the gated area at Confederation Park, a group of strangers were asked to hand over their money, jewellery, food and any valuable possessions to a demanding border guard. The mock checkpoint was the entrance to the Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City, an interactive awareness-raising event by Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which ran from May 13-16. A scenario-based tour, visitors were asked what they would do if told to leave their homes and run for their lives. In learning the challenges a refugee faces including gunshot wounds, bandit attacks, sexual violence and general chaos, they walked through replicas of a shelter, latrine area, cholera treatment clinic and vaccination tent.

“It’s effective because it’s hands on, especially for the kids; when they can see something and touch it as they learn about it, it makes a greater impact,” said Susie Tector, a doctor with MSF who has provided medical aid in Darfur, Chad, Pakistan and the Congo. She led tours with fellow MSF doctors and volunteers who shared personal anecdotes of their experiences working in refugee camps. Making do with limited medical resources, MSF workers provide aid to the world’s 42 million displaced persons. Of these people, 26 million are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) versus the 16 million who are categorized refugees.

© Miljena Dukanovic/MSF “In Nyanzale, Democratic Republic of Congo, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) treats moderately malnourished children on an outpatient basis and admits severe cases to this therapeutic feeding center (2007).

“The only difference is a refugee crosses an international border whereas IDPs do not,” explained Dr. Tector. “Refugees are protected by the UN Convention for Refugees. The people who are displaced in their own countries are seen as an internal problem in their country.”

Of her experiences, witnessing children fight for their lives against common infectious diseases rarely seen in Canada has been heartbreaking and frustrating.

“When you see a child with tetanus, it’s the most horrific thing – they are completely conscious as the jaw locks, they spasm and are in pain,” said Dr. Tector. “It’s very striking to see and given the resources we have, very few survive from it. If they had been born in Canada or any other country, they would have been fine.”

For more information or to donate to MSF, visit www.msf.ca or 1-800-982-7903.

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