Australian working in Rafah hospital says all staff are struggling: ‘We have victims caring for victims’

<span>Australian logistics expert Lindsay Croghan at the Indonesian field hospital in Rafah, Palestine.</span><span>Photograph: Médecins Sans Frontières</span>
Australian logistics expert Lindsay Croghan at the Indonesian field hospital in Rafah, Palestine.Photograph: Médecins Sans Frontières

An Australian logistics expert who is working at a hospital in Rafah has warned that “everyone here is struggling” while raising fears of a “catastrophic” Israeli ground offensive in the southern Gaza city.

Lindsay Croghan, who is on assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières, also said there must be an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire” because a prolonged debate “equates to more deaths”.

The US used its veto power to block a ceasefire resolution at the UN security council on Tuesday, arguing that it would undermine ongoing negotiations aimed at securing the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Related: UK to consider suspending arms exports to Israel if Rafah offensive goes ahead

The Australian government joined Canada and New Zealand last week to warn Israel against carrying out a “devastating” ground offensive in Rafah, saying there was “simply nowhere else for civilians to go”.

Croghan, who is from the Gold Coast, has had seven previous assignments with MSF including in Ukraine and Bangladesh. He is a professional abseiler and outdoor educator who is working as a project logistics manager in Gaza.

“Now in Rafah I am seeing the largest concentration of people in one place since Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, in 2018,” Croghan told Guardian Australia.

“In terms of population density and flow of supplies this is by far the most challenging scene I have come across yet.”

Croghan said he was focused on “ensuring we have a functional working space inside of the Indonesian Field Hospital in Rafah where the bulk of our medical activities are taking place”, including trying to improve water and power security.

The hospital is treating people with trauma injuries and war-related burns, with children comprising more than 40% of its patients.

Croghan said the team he was working alongside were “commendable”, with most of them being Palestinian colleagues “who have no choice in the matter of being in the middle of a war zone and who continue to work to their limits”.

“Our local colleagues struggle to get access to the ‘basic necessities of life’ but somehow, they continue to show up for work and make it possible for the medical care to be given,” Croghan said.

“We are working with an exhausted team, in an impossible scenario. Everyone here is struggling, and it is a situation where we have victims caring for victims. There is no one here who does not need help.”

Croghan said one of his good friends was continuing to look after patients even though his home was now “rubble”.

“We worked together in Ukraine at the end of last year and he was outside the country when the war started and he made every effort to reenter as soon as possible to find his family,” Croghan said.

“When he found them, they had already lost everything, and it was truly a miracle his wife and three children were still alive.

“Soon after finding his family, he returned to work and is right now, as I am writing this, downstairs caring for patients. His home in Gaza is only rubble, his family lives from bags, there is not enough food, and they have no idea right now what will happen in the future – only surviving the day.”

Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched a military response to the 7 October Hamas attacks, when about 1,200 people were killed in southern Israel and about 250 others were taken hostage.

Israel has stated its aim is to “destroy” Hamas and to rescue the hostages but it faces growing international concern about the next stage of its military operation.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed to press ahead with an offensive on Rafah after civilians are allowed to leave the “battle zones” but has yet to spell out those plans.

Croghan said a ground offensive in Rafah “would be catastrophic”.

“People have already lost everything and the humanitarian needs are enormous,” he said. “I worry that it will make things even worse, with everything here hanging by a thread. The medical system is barely able to keep up with the needs.”

Related: Gaza aid deliveries paused amid ‘incredible level of desperation’

Croghan said he had “not given much attention to what the rest of the world is seeing since coming here” but it was important to be aware “that people are being killed needlessly”.

“Every effort should be made to allow unhindered aid access and guarantees given, so that we can get to work and do whatever is still possible to support people in Gaza,” he said.

“There needs to be an immediate and unconditional ceasefire put in place now.”

The draft ceasefire resolution on Tuesday night gained 13 votes in support from the UN security council, including from close allies of the US who insisted that the humanitarian needs of Palestinians outweighed any reservations about the text proposed by Algeria.

Australia is not a member of the UN security council but in December voted with more than 150 countries at the UN general assembly in favour of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

The US ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said: “Demanding an immediate unconditional ceasefire without an agreement requiring Hamas to release the hostages will not bring about durable peace.”

The Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said the veto was “absolutely reckless and dangerous, again shielding Israel even after it commits the most shocking crimes while exposing millions of innocent Palestinian people to more untold horrors”.

– additional reporting by Julian Borger