WHO draws attention to Rohingya mental health issues

A Rohingya refugee youth carries relief materials at a refugee camp in Ukhia. (AFP)
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Updated 11 October 2020

WHO draws attention to Rohingya mental health issues

  • Past trauma and COVID-19 adding to problems

DHAKA: More than 20 percent of Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugees are struggling with mental health issues, a grim result of the abuse and trauma suffered in Myanmar, an official from the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Saturday.

The statistics were shared on World Mental Health Day, which is marked on Oct. 10 every year, and seeks to highlight the plight of nearly a million Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, the world's largest refugee camp.

According to data from the Ministry of Health and shared by the WHO, there were 14,819 consultations for mental health conditions registered by the district health department among the Rohingya in 2019. 

From January to now the figure has jumped to nearly 20,000.

Most cases were addressed by healthcare centers at the camps, where Rohingya patients were given counseling and treatment.

“In the aftermath of a crisis, one person in five (22 percent) is estimated to have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia,” WHO spokesperson Catalin Bercaru told Arab News. “The psychosocial and social impacts of emergencies may be acute in the short term, but they can also undermine the long-term mental health and psychosocial well-being of the affected populations.” 

The Rohingya have endured decades of abuse and trauma in Myanmar, beginning in the 1970s when hundreds of thousands sought refuge in Bangladesh.

Between 1989 and 1991 an additional 250,000 fled when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal that led to thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine state. The exodus to Bangladesh resumed a few years ago.

“Our houses were burnt down by the military,” 42-year-old refugee Mostafa Ahmed told Arab News. “They took away my two younger brothers who never returned. I can't sleep at night. My memories in Rakhine haunt me. I have no words to console my parents over the irreparable losses of their sons.”

Another refugee, 31-year-old Amina B, said she continuously re-lived the horror of the atrocities she was subjected to. She asked that her full name not be disclosed.

“I was gang-raped by a group of people,” she told Arab News. “They thought I was dead and left me inside my home. When I returned to my senses, I found myself surrounded by my neighbors in my yard. They took away my husband on that day, and I never met him again. After one week, along with a few of my neighbors, I started walking toward Bangladesh. It took me eight days to reach Cox's Bazar.”

Children also remember the dark days before fleeing to Bangladesh. Morium Akter was 10 when she lost her father.

“I lost my father in front of my eyes,” Akter told Arab News. “The military shot him … I still remember his last words to me: ‘Stay safe my little angel.’” 

She, along with her mother and three brothers, are trying to rebuild their lives at the refugee camps.

Bercaru said that while the WHO had trained at least 8,000 doctors and 1,000 nurses for mental health-related ailments in the past two years, the problems were increasing among “emergency-affected populations” with the COVID-19 pandemic expected to have a “massive impact” on people’s mental well-being.

As of Friday, nearly 276 Rohingya had tested for coronavirus, with eight deaths reported.

“To date, 291 professionals working in the camps and government facilities have benefited from the training,” Bercaru added.

The WHO said the more worrying factor that emerged during consultations and treatment was that children were found to be one of the most vulnerable groups among the refugees.

According to UNICEF, there are around 470,000 children in the camps at Cox's Bazar, including some who suffer from mental health issues.

Bercaru said the WHO had formed a special task force to address this problem, with activities focusing on the promotion of well-being.


Suspected Boko Haram extremists kill at least 40 farmers in Nigeria

Updated 43 min 44 sec ago

Suspected Boko Haram extremists kill at least 40 farmers in Nigeria

  • The farmers were reportedly rounded up and summarily killed by armed insurgents
  • Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed grief over the killings
MAIDGURI, Nigeria: Suspected members of the militant group Boko Haram killed at least 40 rice farmers and fishermen while they were harvesting crops in Nigeria’s northern Borno State, officials said.
The attack was staged Saturday in a rice field in Garin Kwashebe, a Borno community known for rice farming, on the day residents of the state were casting votes for the first time in 13 years to elect local government councils, though many didn’t go to cast their ballots.
The farmers were reportedly rounded up and summarily killed by armed insurgents.
Malam Zabarmari, a leader of a rice farmers association in Borno state, confirmed the massacre.
“The farmers were attacked at the Garin-Kwashebe rice field in Zabarmari community, and according to reports reaching us since afternoon, about 40 of them were killed,” he said, adding that it likely could be up to 60 people killed.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari expressed grief over the killings.
“I condemn the killing of our hardworking farmers by terrorists in Borno State. The entire country is hurt by these senseless killings. My thoughts are with their families in this time of grief. May their souls Rest In Peace,” he said in a statement.
Buhari said the government had given all the needed support to the armed forces “to take all necessary steps to protect the country’s population and its territory.”
A member of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Satomi, who represents the Jere Federal constituency of Borno, said at least 44 burials will take place Sunday.
“Farmers and fishermen were killed in cold blood. Over 60 farmers were affected, but we only have so far received 44 corpses from the farms and we are preparing for their burials today, Sunday by God’s grace,” the federal lawmaker said.
Boko Haram and a breakaway faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province, are both active in the region. Boko Haram’s more than decade-long insurgency has left thousands dead and displaced tens of thousands. Officials say Boko Haram members often force villagers to pay illegal taxes by taking their livestock or crops. But over time, some villagers have begun to resist the extortion.
Satomi said the farmers in Garin Kwashebe were attacked because they had disarmed and arrested a Boko Haram gunman on Friday who had been tormenting them.
“A lone gunman, who was a member of Boko Haram came to harass the farmers by ordering them to give him money and also cook for him. While he was waiting for the food to be cooked, the farmers seized the moment he stepped into the toilet to snatch his rifle and tied him up,” he said.
“They later handed him over to the security. But sadly, the security forces did not protect the courageous farmer. And in reprisal for daring them, the Boko Haram mobilized and came to attack them on their farms.”
Insurgents also torched the rice farms before leaving, he said.