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Worst year yet”: Four years since Rohingya exodus, fires, floods and COVID-19 take toll on children

Four years after almost one million Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar into Bangladesh, Save the Children warns that an onslaught of fires, floods, cyclones, and the COVID-19 pandemic in the past year has left refugee children struggling to cope with many self-harming.
25 August 2021

Save the Children Australia has urged the Australian community not to forget about the children who are still suffering amid the world’s most densely populated refugee camp.

Save the Children’s mental health workers in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps report that children are showing visible signs of distress including sleeplessness, nightmares, depression, and self-harm.
 
In a Save the Children survey of 141 of its mental health and education staff, 35% said children they worked with had harmed themselves.
 
For many children, the events of the past year have triggered past traumas. Three-quarters (73%) of staff surveyed said children they work with refer to traumatic experiences in Myanmar when they talk about more recent events in the camps, including fires and gang violence.
 
They reported that fires have particularly affected children, many of whom fled Myanmar after their homes were set alight, only to see their makeshift homes go up in flames again this year. There were at least 100 fires in the camps in the first seven months of this year.
 
Last month, heavy rains triggered landslides and flooding in the camp, killing 10 refugees including at least three children, destroying the makeshift homes of more than 25,000, and affecting more than 83,000 Rohingya refugees[i].
 
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the closure of education facilities, causing a major disruption to children’s learning and further impacting their mental health and wellbeing, Save the Children said.
 
Save the Children Australia’s Director of International Programs Mat Tinkler said:
 
“We can’t forget the plight of the Rohingya. These people have been through unimaginable horror. They’ve lived through an attempted genocide, lost their homes, travelled a harrowing journey to try and rebuild their lives. And they’ve watched again as their tents have been destroyed by fire, swept away by flooding rains and now COVID-19.  
 
“For many children living here, tragedy and trauma is all they’ve known. This is no place to be a child. Reports of children self-harming are incredibly distressing and disturbing.
 
“Almost half a million children are stuck in camps in Cox’s Bazar and the barrage of crisis they’ve faced mean they need our support now more than ever just to survive.

 
“As we mark four years since they fled their homes, we want to remind people that they are still living in these camps and the situation has not improved for them. We need to ensure governments continue to fund and support Rohingya families and use their diplomatic influence to continue to try to find them a peaceful and sustainable home.”
 
Ruma Khondokar, a senior mental health specialist for Save the Children, said the crisis of the past year had left many children unable to cope. She said:
 
“We come across hundreds of children who have been left traumatised by these disasters. After the massive fire that happened earlier this year, children were having nightmares about being unable to escape. Many had already seen their homes set on fire in Myanmar. Imagine seeing your home go up in flames time and time again. There is only so much a child’s young mind can take.”
 
Save the Children's health teams and refugee health workers are supporting the government of Bangladesh to vaccinate Rohingya refugees over the age of 55, combat misinformation about the vaccine and help transport older refugees with mobility issues to vaccination sites.
 
The organisation is also calling on the international community to find a long-term solution to the Rohingya crisis that addresses its root causes and allows for safe, dignified and voluntary returns of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, when it is safe to do so. It is also calling on UN member states to take the strongest possible action to bring perpetrators of violence against the Rohingya to account.
 
Case study:
 
11-year-old Banna’s* family has seen their home destroyed several times due to cyclones, fires and flooding in what they say has been their worst year yet in the camps.
 
In March their home was destroyed by a massive fire that blazed through the camp, affecting nearly 50,000 people[ii] They spent over a month living under a tarpaulin sheet as their shelter was rebuilt. Then just one month into their new home, they again saw their shelter destroyed, this time by flooding as heavy rains and landslides devastated the camp.
 
“I have built this shelter a total of five times in the last four years,” said Banna’s mother Rubaida*, 30. “This year, they rebuilt my shelter. After two or three days, the shelter was burned down in the horrible fire. Then they rebuilt it [again]. Then it was damaged again due to the landslide caused by the rain.
 
“People have not been able to get in or out of the camp this year due to the fire and the COVID-19 pandemic. There was heavy rain – landslides have killed people. We have heard that people have drowned here.”

 
Banna, who was just 7 years old when he fled Myanmar, is being supported by Save the Children’s mental health workers who are helping him to cope with what he has experienced.
 
He said: “I was scared to see the house was on fire. I was scared I would get burnt. I’m scared that if fire breaks out again, we will be burnt if we can’t escape.”
 

More content of Banna and his family here: Save the Children - Search Result (contenthubsavethechildren.org)
 
Media please contact: Jane Gardner 0438 130 905 / jane.gardner@savethechildren.org.au
 

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