Photo from MOAS

The Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) is an international humanitarian organisation based in Malta dedicated to providing aid and emergency medical relief to refugees and migrants around the world.

Founded in 2013 in response to the Mediterranean maritime migration phenomenon, today MOAS is working in Bangladesh to provide emergency medical care and assistance to Rohingya refugees fleeing from violence and persecution in Myanmar.

A full member of the IMRF since 2015, and winner of the IMRF Award for Outstanding Team Contribution to a Maritime SAR Operation in 2017, Regina Catrambone, Founder and Director of MOAS talks about how the organisation is now at the forefront of Disaster Risk Preparedness in Bangladesh.

Building on MOAS’s humanitarian operations which began in 2017 in response to the Rohingya refugee crisis, in 2019, the organization began delivering a Flood and Water Safety Training course to Rohingya refugees and the local community in the Cox’s Bazar district.

The course was instigated in response to the considerable risks of flooding, landslides and tidal surges, and consequential high numbers of water-related deaths during the monsoon and cyclone season in the region.

In 2019, we trained 1,220 safety volunteers to act as first responders in the event of water-related emergencies and taught them methods to manage the after-effects of flooding, and lifesaving results were achieved.

At the end of the year, MOAS reached an agreement with UNHCR to expand the initiative to the local fishing community in 2020.

The area of focus for the fishing community is the Teknaf peninsula, which has been host to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya seeking refuge from long term conflict and persecution in Myanmar since 2017.

The combined elements of a protracted humanitarian crisis and high fatality rates for local fishermen due to drowning and water related accidents, has resulted in the peninsula being the site of MOAS’ intervention. 

Fishing is key to the local economy, both in terms of providing a food source and an income. However, safety records for fisherman in this area are poor, with fatalities occurring on a regular basis.

In addition, whilst out working, fisherman have frequently come across Rohingya boats in distress or refugees in the water. MOAS is therefore seeking to improve the safety of those individuals operating on these fishing boats, by building capacity in fishermen by equipping them with a greater knowledge of water safety and with the skills necessary to be able to perform simple water rescues. 

As an NGO, MOAS brings a unique set of skills to bear on the issue, with substantive experience of maritime search and rescue in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas and an extensive flood response capability. 

Through directly engaging with fishermen from the host community, MOAS is now delivering a basic maritime safety and boat-based rescue course, based on recognized best practice, to them.

Specifically tailored towards the marine environment, the course is providing the necessary skills to perform rescues for anyone in distress at sea, as well as supporting the fishing community itself to be better prepared for emergency situations and work in increased safety. In addition to simple rescue techniques, the course is providing an element of basic emergency first aid. 

The training, which we conduct in cooperation with the UNHCR, the Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP), and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), is being delivered to groups of 25 people at a time, which are established based on existing working networks.

One member of the group will be nominated to become a Community Safety Champion, receiving further intensive training on how to deliver the course to future participants, to ensure the sustainability of the project and facilitate knowledge retention within the community. 

This year, despite some disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the training course, known as Water Safety and Livelihood Practice, is going ahead. So far, 299 host community fishermen have received the training, and our aim for the year is to train a total of 500 fishermen from the host communities of the Shamlapur and Teknaf areas. 

In addition, to the fishing community, we are also continuing with our Flood and Water Safety Training for Rohingya refugees and host community members. This year, 700 Rohingya refugees and 860 host community members will complete the training.