Doctors address mental health crisis among Rohingya refugees


Since August 2017 over 700,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar and crossed the river into Bangladesh. This has created one of the world’s largest refugee camps. They have faced violence in Myanmar in what is called ethnic cleansing. Their houses were burned to the ground, men were shot to death leaving widows. And these widows watched their babies thrown into fires, their breasts were cut off and they were gang-raped. I’m an advisor for the organization in Bangladesh called Friends in Village Development Bangladesh. They have provided food, water and a safe space for these refugees to stay. And so I’m actually helping them create the clinical care. And that involves the screening process of dehydration, malnutrition. When I went to the camps, it was very clear that there was not enough mental health to serve the great need. Tell me about the resiliency that you see in the group. All the organizations that were helping refugees were calling for mental health expertise. They were realizing that without that delivering any help would be difficult. The mental health problems were getting in the way. We talked to a family of two – a mother and a daughter – survivors from a much bigger family. The mom talked about her baby being killed in front of her. And she talked about her face and her body being cut as she was turning to look at her baby being killed. It was very obvious that her daughter also saw that. This little girl also said that when she sees a baby in the camp, she cannot help but thinking about her baby brother. Suffering that you can share with others is very different than suffering that you just keep for yourself. So it’s a basic mental health intervention. Hearing her story allows Washington University in partnership with Friends in Village Development Bangladesh to advocate for her story, to create programs that are tailored to meet her needs, and the needs of all the refugees. Because her story symbolized almost what everyone is going through. The big picture goal is to have a committed relationship with this organization over the long term so that as they are working with refugees, who on average stay in camps for 15 to 30 years, they are able to build their capacity for mental health delivery. And in a way that is respectful of the Rohingya culture.

1 thought on “Doctors address mental health crisis among Rohingya refugees

  1. I don't want to see anyone suffer, and I feel all human beings should receive medical care. We are constantly told that the mean old Buddhists are persecuting the peace-loving Muslims. I am at a point in life where I have begun to realize how we are lied to constantly lied to by governmental officials, academics, politicians, journalists and others with a particular agenda to promote. Why should I believe the narrative put forward by the Rohingya supporters? It is starting to sound like the antisemitic BDS groups who assure us that only Jews are evil, not the terrorists. Do not get me wrong. I want BOTH sides in this conflict to live in peace, happiness and prosperity. But please forgive me if I seem a little suspicious. The Buddhists in Myanmar tell a story different from this. In any case, we must do all we can bring help to all children and adults who face suffering. But at the same time, I would like assurance that the Rohingya leaders are doing their part as well.

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