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Confronting visit to refugee camps


Distributing a simple meal of pasta, fish and rice to more than 900 homeless people in one sitting was just one of the moving experiences of a trip to the Philippines for Noel Mifsud, a Knight and member of the national executive of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in Australia.

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The former Christian Brothers College principal recently visited aid projects and refugee camps on the Thai Myanmar border in Thailand as part of an eight-person international delegation representing the Order on invitation from Malteser International (MI) in Germany, the international humanitarian relief agency of the Order.

The Sovereign Military Order of Malta is a religious lay order of the Catholic Church dating back to 1113. The mission of the Order is to alleviate the suffering of the poor and sick and to defend the Catholic faith.

In the Philippines, the delegation was briefed by Ambassador Leopoldo Lazatin on the Order’s projects which included water, sanitation and hygiene projects, solid waste management and disaster risk reduction.

Referring to the meal for 930 homeless people, Noel said “the hand of God was ever present” as they accepted the meal with “deep gratitude”.

“One of the homeless blessed me and whispered happy Christmas such was his joy at receiving the meal – despite it being September,” Noel said.

In Thailand, delegates visited refugee camps on the Thai Myanmar border where MI is active in chronic patient care, vaccination and eye clinics, post-natal care, and waste disposal programs.

In a meeting with camp leaders, Noel asked ‘what brings residents joy?’ and was humbled and saddened by the response which was ‘we live day by day’.

“In other words, the refugees had no hope,” Noel said.

“Bombings and land mines were active less than 50km from the camp.”

Many of the 9500 refugees at the camps have been trapped there for more than 15 years.

“Going home is not an option,” Noel said. “Obtaining refugee status in countries including Australia is their only hope.”

A school principal for almost 30 years, Noel has been involved in Australian and international relief humanitarian projects across the globe.

MI is seeking donations to cover referral costs of children and pregnant mothers to refugee camp hospitals as well as to support its ‘Mother Child Health’, water and sanitation projects.

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