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.