New project brings psychological care to Rohingya refugee children

Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh Credit Sk Hasan Ali  Shutterstock Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. | Sk Hasan Ali / Shutterstock.

A new initiative for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is offering counseling and psychological care for children and adolescents in refugee camps.

The Multipurpose Adolescent Centre, run by Caritas Bangladesh, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and the US-based Catholic Relief Service (CRS), will also provide care for pregnant women and children with special needs.

The program began November 15 and will continue until next April, focusing on 12-18 year-old children, UCA News reported.

The Rohingya are a largely Muslim ethnic group who reside in Burma's Rakhine State. In August 2017, the Rohingya faced a sharp increase in state-sponsored violence in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

The Burmese government refused to use the term Rohingya, and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have been denied citizenship and numerous other rights since a controversial law was enacted in 1982.

The violence reached levels that led the United Nations to declare the crisis "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

More than 1 million Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh. Most are living in refugee camps, many of which are located in a swampy sort of "buffer zone" along the border between the two countries.

In addition to the trauma of facing persecution and the experience of being uprooted from their homes, the Rohingya in crowded refugee camps have faced difficulty maintaining hygiene and social distancing recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic, as clean water and other sanitation supplies are not always available.

"The Rohingya community face not only the challenge of living in overcrowded and flimsy shelters with up to ten or more people in one room, but they also use communal latrines and water facilities and space is limited where they receive food distributions," wrote Inmanuel Chayan, a communications officer for Caritas Bangladesh, on the Caritas website June 26.

Caritas has been present in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh since 2017, while Jesuit Relief Services has been present since 2018.

The agencies are offering support for shelter and disaster risk reduction efforts, as well as funding for mental health care and childhood skill development.

Father Jerry Gomes, JRS representative in Bangladesh, told UCA News that JRS would like to help provide formal education for the refugee children. However, the government has placed restrictions on educational efforts, saying the refugee children will soon return to their home country.

"If Bangladesh allows formal education for refugee children, we will be happy to help," Gomes said.

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