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‘Massive Mental Health Crisis’ Feared for Rohingya Children

Ms. Holdt, who has been working in the camps for two months, said that many Rohingya children are living in a state of near constant “fight or flight” arousal, a hyperstressed condition that can change the architecture of their brains.

Yet the children who made it to the camps are the lucky ones. Doctors Without Borders estimates that at least 730 Rohingya children younger than 5 were killed in Myanmar between late August and late September, mostly by gunshot, according to a survey released in December. Nearly 10 percent of those children were burned in their homes, while 5 percent were beaten to death.

The international medical charity cautioned that its estimate was conservative and probably understated the true mortality figures.

Although the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar say they will proceed with a voluntary repatriation scheme in the coming weeks, there is little enthusiasm among Rohingya refugees for returning to the site of what Western governments have labeled ethnic cleansing.

The Myanmar government has stripped most Rohingya of citizenship and considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The likelihood, then, is that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children will grow up both stateless and homeless — an untethered life of displacement that bodes ill for a people already wounded by decades of military persecution in Rakhine State.

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Jehora Begum, 12, made it to the Balukhali camp in Bangladesh after most of her family was gunned down in Myanmar. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times
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An x-ray shows the bullet still lodged near Jehora Begum’s pelvis. Credit Adam Dean for The New York Times

“There have been other recent crises in places like Congo where children saw their families slaughtered or mothers being raped,” said Benjamin Steinlechner, a spokesman for the United Nations Children’s Fund, or Unicef, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. “But the scale of what has happened with the Rohingya is so much greater than what we’ve seen in other places. We have no idea how all these children are going to process this trauma.”

For now, aid workers in the camps in Bangladesh are preoccupied with more immediate matters of life and death.

Unicef says that 7 percent of children in the camps are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a condition from which they will die unless they get proper care. That figure is three times higher than in other recent humanitarian emergencies.

Even as international organizations scale up their aid efforts, parents wander the camps cradling infants with emaciated limbs and oversized eyes bulging out of skeletal faces. Children who look like toddlers turn out to be 6 or 7 years old — although their cauterized expressions have an adult’s hardness.

Outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as measles and diphtheria, are sweeping through the overcrowded camps, which, with the recent influx, now house more than 800,000 Rohingya.

Helping the Rohingya

At least 60 percent of water wells in Rohingya refugee settlements are contaminated with fecal matter from latrines that have been dug too close to drinking sources. Children suffer disproportionately from diseases that fester in refugee camps.

Source: NYT > World

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