New report reveals extreme traumatic stress among Rohingya genocide survivors | The Daily Star
04:06 PM, December 10, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:08 PM, December 10, 2020

New report reveals extreme traumatic stress among Rohingya genocide survivors

Rohingyas in Bangladesh who survived genocide in Myanmar are experiencing a "severe" mental health crisis, according to data in a new report published by Fortify Rights today.

The report includes quantitative data on Rohingya experiences with human rights violations in Myanmar, traumatic events in Myanmar, symptoms of mental harm -- including post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety -- functioning difficulties, as well as Rohingya opinions on returning to Myanmar.

"The Rohingya mental health crisis is life-threatening and has been largely overlooked," said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights.

"The scale of the problem is massive but not insurmountable. Governments should prioritise the mental health of the Rohingya community and ensure survivors of the genocide in Myanmar can rebuild their lives with dignity," he said.

United Nations agencies estimate that 12 months after an emergency, approximately 15 to 20 percent of adults will experience some type of moderate or mild mental health disorder.

However, data published today reveals that 88.7 percent of Rohingya refugees experienced symptoms of depression, 84 percent experienced symptoms of emotional distress, and 61.2 percent experienced symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The data further shows how these symptoms adversely impact the daily lives and functioning of Rohingya genocide survivors.

The 99-page report, "The Torture in My Mind: The Right to Mental Health for Rohingya Survivors of Genocide in Myanmar" is based on participatory action research conducted between March 2018 and November 2020 by a team of ten ethnic-Rohingya researchers trained and supported by Fortify Rights.

The report provides new evidence of the severe mental health toll that genocide, human rights violations, and violence has on survivors.  

The quantitative methods used in the report ensure the results are representative of the entire Rohingya refugee population in Bangladesh.

The most highly reported symptoms experienced by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh related to reliving traumatic events.

For example, 97.6 percent of Rohingya experienced some level of "recurrent thoughts or memories of the most hurtful or terrifying event," "feeling as though the event is happening again" (96.6 percent), and "recurrent nightmares" (82.2 percent).

The trauma symptoms experienced by a majority of Rohingya are indicative of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a serious mental-health condition that can interfere with leading a constructive life.

Nearly all Rohingya survey participants reported personally experiencing or witnessing traumatic experiences in Myanmar: 98.6 percent of Rohingya refugees experienced exposure to frequent gunfire in Myanmar, 97.8 percent witnessed the destruction or burning of villages, 91.8 percent witnessed dead bodies, and 90.4 percent witnessed physical violence against others.

Of those indicating the murder of an immediate family member, 99.3 percent reported that security forces in Myanmar perpetrated the killing.

Many Rohingya participants also reported experiencing bodily harm in Myanmar, including torture (55.5 percent), beatings by a non-family member (46.1 percent), stabbings (29.4 percent), or physical injury from being shot (5.1 percent).

Eight Rohingya women (3.1 percent) reported being raped, and 87.5 percent of these women reported being raped by Myanmar security forces.

The research also found 34.3 percent of Rohingya refugee men experienced sexual abuse, sexual humiliation, or sexual exploitation in Myanmar, compared with 31.1 percent of women—figures that may be affected by underreporting.

The report findings demonstrate that restrictions on education, freedom of movement, healthcare, religious expression, and other violations are pervasive in Myanmar and contribute to protracted symptoms of trauma,

Most of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh (68.7 percent) reported feeling "humiliated or subhuman," which also significantly contributes to mental-health distress.

"They treated us worse than animals," said a 44-year-old Rohingya research participant referring to actions by Myanmar authorities.

The ten-member Rohingya research team who worked on this project conducted 495 household surveys, 13 pre-research focus-group discussions, 33 participant feedback sessions, and 16 community workshops with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

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