Refugee Relief Mission Profile

Overview of Operations

From 1995 - 2011, Refugee Relief International, Inc. conducted ten relief missions along the Thai/Burma border to treat victims of the ethnic cleansing there, many of whom were small children. Teams treated land mine injuries, gunshot wounds, fragmentation injuries burns and other injuries. Medical treatment for conditions ranging from endemic malaria and tropical disease to malnutrition and pediatric illness was provided.

Karen flag

This area is crowded with refugees from the Karen (pronounced "Kuh-REN") people in Eastern Burma. The military dictatorship in Burma has expelled ethnic Karens from the country, so they now live in squalor in refugee camps across the border. Outnumbered and out-gunned, the Karen National Union struggles to resist. The need there is so great that RRII could literally operate there year-round, but is limited by the amount of funding available.

RRII has also been active in the support of populations struggling towards self-determination. An RRII team was among the first NGOs in Afghanistan, providing ais to refugee patients in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance while the fight against the Taliban has just begun, and Refugee Relief International, Inc., team worked closely with Iraqi physicians during the first few months of US involvement in Iraq, providing treatment of traumatic injuries and updating indigenous physicians in obstetric and gynecological techniques and procedures.

In Tanzania, RRII team members provided medical and surgical services to resettled refugee populations in the vicinity of Lake Tanganyika. In Central America, RRII established treatment facilities for indigenous peoples who had been impacted by the
insurgencies and counter-insurgencies of the 1980s and 90s.

Typical Relief Mission

Upon arrival in-country, an RRI team of four-six medical people travel by land across dense jungle to get to areas beyond the reach of civilian medical services, usually escorted by locals who know the area and who provide local security.

Upon arrival at the converted medical facility which is often just a converted jungle hut, the team assesses the local situation, medical staff capabilities and patients. Working closely with the local medical practitioners, a surgical unit is organized and setup to perform three to ten operations per day. Medical cases are also evaluated and treated, using the resources available locally. Treatments and medicines that cannot be sustained locally are avoided.

Operations run the range from simple surgeries to amputations of limbs, and usually are done without running water or electricity. Since our teams can work only with the equipment they can carry on their backs, we have developed special sterilization and anesthetic techniques that require minimum equipment and yet work well in a jungle setting.

RRII has realized that the only way to generate sustainable change and improvement in the care provided by indigenous medical providers is through education. That is why our emphasis is twofold: treatment of urgent medical and surgical problems and training of indigenous health care providers. One example is the General Medical Officer program developed in conjunction with the Karen National Union health authorities. Karen medics are taught clinical skills and reasoning, diagnosis and treatment by RRII instructors using a modular concept. A two year course, the GMO program resembles in basis form the US physician assistant concept of a health care provider who can function in a remote environment under distant supervision. Students are taught in modules, each one building on the other until training is complete.