For hundreds of thousands of young refugees the future looms dark and uncertain
The Rohingya Muslims are the world’s largest stateless people. It is estimated that there are about 500,000 children under the age of 18 living in the camps, with about 300,000 aged 3 to 14. Studies on the health of these young Rohingya refugees suggest emergence of mental health decline. They have been subject to miserable living conditions marked by exposure to violence, local hostility, and various forms of discrimination.
The traumas of the migration and the constant struggle that the families experience, is putting the young minds into turbulence. Research on various refugee youth, in camps around the world, indicates that they suffer from, or are at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with various investigations revealing rates of PTSD from 50-90% and major depression from 6-40%. When these children are further exposed to daily stressors, the anxiety increases.
For the Rohingya girls going to the toilet is an ordeal, with the fear of sexual abuse. On top of that they are uneducated, malnourished and unheard. The young boys on camp are vulnerable to trafficking and under-age hazardous labor. The unstructured, abundant spare-time and lack of counselling has made the Rohingya youth restless. They are highly prone to depression, drug abuse and organized violence. A UNICEF report published in 2018 warned that teenagers in the camps risked becoming a “lost generation”.
Living in overcrowded camps, these bright minds could be healed with targeted educational interventions. However, Rohingya children lack the education system that they need to survive in the competitive future. The curriculum taught in “learning centers” is, in most cases, entirely different from the ones taught in the national schools. This discriminates them growing up in Bangladesh and undermines their learning capability. Since their legal status is unclear, the prospect of higher education, diplomas or documented jobs is a dream. The teaching time also lacks consistency and does not meet the needs of adolescents in particular. The need for persistent, therapeutic interventions is being overlooked. The teenagers are isolated with their inner thoughts and face barriers in the community environment around them. Many of the talented youth are therefore, frustrated and depressed.
Attention must now turn to young refugee’s minds and future prospects, in particular, improved quality education, skill development, vocational training and positive engagement for children. A continuum of care with multi-level and cross-sectoral intervention is required to improve their mental health outcomes. After all, Rohingya children growing up will have a deep impact on not only their own families, but also on the host communities and the subsequent generations.
Sobiya Aziz Badat is a student of Environmental Science, at Independent University Bangladesh (IUB).