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Paramedic highlights plight of Rohingya refugees after flying out to help them

A PARAMEDIC has highlighted the plight of people affected by the world's fastest growing refugee crisis after flying out to help them.

Tom McLay, who works for the Welsh Ambulance Service in Llanrwst, shared his experiences after seeing first-hand the distressing conditions facing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing violence and persecution.

More than 700,000 refugees have arrived from Myanmar's Rakhine State (Burma) to Bangladesh’s south-eastern districts since August 2017 to escape a military offensive being waged against them at home.

Tom, who lives in Betws y Coed, spent 18 days in the Cox’s Bazar area as part of team of volunteer medics treating those living in overcrowded camps, which lack clean water and sanitation.

He said he was inspired to assist the refugees, many of whom have severe injuries and are deeply traumatised, after widespread media coverage brought their struggles to global attention.

Tom said: “The first thing which strikes you when you get there is just how many people are living in these camps. If you climb to the top of a hill the sea of tents goes on as far as the eye can see.

“I was with a small team of Australian paramedics and nurses, called the Backpacker Medics Disaster Response Group, and we had two main aims.

“Those were to provide medical aid throughout the camp and also to train a group of Rohingya volunteers to act as a network of first responders, similar to the ones we have in Wales, in outlying areas of the camp.

“New arrivals are sent to the far south western edge of the camp and could face a 5km walk through difficult terrain to a road to then be transported to hospital, hence the need for mobile medical teams.”

The medics grouped the people they were treating into four main categories, including primary trauma patients, suffering injuries as a result of violence in Myanmar or on route to Bangladesh.

There were also patients suffering secondary trauma injuries sustained in camp, chronic health conditions, exacerbated by restricted access to healthcare in Burma, and general illnesses.

While half the team treated patients throughout the day in a makeshift clinical area, the other half delivered a four-day training course to a group of 30 Rohingya volunteers, consisting of wound care, first aid, CPR and stretcher building.

On completion, the groups of five became first responders for their block and are being paid a competitive salary for a six month period thanks to fundraising efforts.

Tom said: “The experience I had in Bangladesh definitely put the problems I face in my life into perspective and taught me to be thankful for what I’ve got.

“Alongside the geographical barriers to healthcare, many people can’t leave their tents for a variety of reasons; some due to the disfiguring injuries inflicted upon them in Myanmar, which means they don’t want to be seen in public.

“That’s not to mention those bearing heavy psychological scars from the violence, which makes them unwilling to leave the familiarity and relative comfort of their shelter.

“Since leaving, we receive daily updates from the first responder teams through a larger aid agency, and we’re told they’re very busy and that their work is held in high regard.

“It’s definitely something that I’d do again and I’m grateful for the support of the Welsh Ambulance Service in allowing me to take up this opportunity.”

Notes to editors
Caption: Paramedic Tom McLay, who is based at Llanrwst Ambulance Station, in one of the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Other pictures taken by the Backpacker Medics Disaster Response Group show the medical team providing treatment and training volunteers.

For more information regarding this press release, please call Communications Officer Liam Randall on 01745 532511 or 07841 840 632 or email


20 Apr 2018 15:09

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