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 As we are nearing the Humanitarian Forum and Fair 2019 on 1st June 2019, we are happy to have a quick chat with James Gomes, Regional Director of Caritas Chattogram in Bangladesh, who will be one of the speakers at this year's forum. 

James Gomes was one of the first front line leaders who responded to the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, where thousands of Rohingya were forcibly displaced. As the Regional Director of Caritas Chattogram for the last 12 years, he will share his experiences, inspirations and untold sufferings of the Rohingya living in the world's largest refugee camp. 

We asked him some questions about his experiences and thoughts regarding his journey - if you would like to hear more from James, come down for HFF 2019! For more information, please go to www.charis-singapore.org/hff2019 !

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James Gomes, Caritas Regional Director, speaks to two Rohingya refugees outside their families makeshift home in the TV Tower refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Caritas

Q1. What/ who inspired you to enter the mission field?

I have been working in the field of international development for nearly 21 years.  I have worked in various sectors previously but Caritas Bangladesh is where I work most directly and intensively with refugees. I stayed in a registered Camp for five days to gain insight into the plight of refugees. I was watching television one fateful day in August 2017 when the news featured the Rohingya refugees seeking asylum in large numbers. They witnessed violence and experienced massive hardships, and were driven to flee their homes out of fear for their lives. My heart went out to them as I watched the scenes unfold in front of me.   

I kept hearing the message “when I was a foreigner you did not give me a place” and knew I could not sit at home doing nothing. I was drawn by an unknown force to do something for these refugees. I believe it was the Holy Spirit which inspired me. I believe it is our duty as humans to care for those who are in need, which is why it is so important to help refugees through their tough times.  When I work with them, I try to convey the message of hope, and help them understand that they are loved.  


Q2. What do you think is the greatest challenge in working with refugees and migrants today?

Someone forced to leave their homes, their countries, and many times, their loved ones and families, for the purpose of finding safety and security in another country. Being a refugee is one of the hardest things any human being can face but being a female refugee brings even more challenges. According to UNHCR, 68.5 million people worldwide are forcibly displaced. The number of displaced individuals in our world today has reached a staggering high.

Men are unable to find work and cannot fulfill the needs of their families. As a result, their traditional role within the family is disrupted, which leads to stress and lowered self-esteem. As men face mounting poverty and desperation, their frustrations are increasingly manifested as physical violence towards their wives and children.  Domestic violence is on the rise and many women are forced to take on the hardships and responsibilities of a family while coping with dwindling resources. Many women have been forced into trafficking.  Uncertainty about the future drives many refugees to despair.   


Q3. How is Caritas’ approach in working with refugees and migrants different from that of other NGOs (e.g. UN, Red Cross, MSF)?

Caritas' approach to working with refugees is different from other NGOs and INGOs. Caritas strongly believes in the quality and sustainability of its work. We work not just to implement programs and offer aid, but doing so with love and respect.

Involvement of the beneficiaries is one of the most important characteristics of Caritas. We work to address their needs and protection. Ensuring their dignity is a must. I believe this sets us apart from other NGOs.


Q4. Share with us an incident which moved you/ made a significant impact on your outlook.

In 2017, I met the Rohingya people and listened to their stories as they crossed the river into Bangladesh. I encountered a newly married woman, who lost her husband and sisters in Myanmar. She was fleeing to Bangladesh when she saw a baby boy crying beside his mother's dead body. She took the child with her without a second thought.  I heard many such stories in those days.

I am most touched by how accepting the local people of Cox's Bazar are towards the Rohingya people. The area is poverty-stricken and most of the people are living hand to mouth. Yet the locals accepted the refugees, shared their food and gave them a place to stay. This has changed my outlook and continues to inspire me.


Q5. What is your dream for the future?

I understand refugees’ loss of home and identity and that, in part, drives the work we do. The most important thing to remember is that any one of us could become a refugee. Many of our ancestors were taken refugee during our liberation war and I heard their experience and miseries. My dream is for these people to one day return to their own country with dignity and identity. I have a dream that there will no longer be any religious discrimination or discrimination between rich and poor – where each person will be respected, regardless of whether he is a businessman or fisherman, and live in a family of love.


 To hear more from James Gomes and other inspiring speakers, register at www.charis-singapore.org/hff2019 ! 

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