The on-going atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine state in the most recent escalation of violence has caused much suffering to those in the Myanmar state and the Rohingya diaspora, many of whom are living in protracted displacement as refugees and asylum seekers in countries of asylum such as Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia.
The decades-long persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar has led to hundreds of thousands fleeing Myanmar. The latest wave of violence has deeply affected the Rohingya community in Malaysia, many of whom continue to receive distressing reports of relatives who have been killed, are missing or are struggling with hunger and exhaustion in their journey to safety. Many have also lost contact with relatives and are gripped by anxiety. Some community members have reported their consideration of turning to human smugglers to help their loved ones make the journey out of Myanmar, thereby increasing the possible risk of them being trafficked. For others, the feelings of relief after family members have successfully crossed over to Bangladesh are short lived as, yet again, they are faced with distressing reports of the lack of access to food, sanitation and shelter.
The Rohingya community in Malaysia with families in Bangladesh and/or fleeing Myanmar to Bangladesh are having their meagre resources depleted as they spend exorbitant amount of money to communicate with their loved ones and try to support their flight from the terrifying violence back home. Additionally, their ongoing fears, uncertainties and dilemmas and the stress of having to make difficult decisions that impact their lives here and the lives of those in Rakhine State and Bangladesh, has led to a community exhausting all their resources and reaching the end of their tether. Community members report a deepening sense of helplessness, hopelessness and desperation. One community member reported that the only respite from her daily anguish is the fleeting call from her family to communicate to her of their whereabouts. She says, “…otherwise, what is there to hope? There is no hope”.
This sense of absolute despair and chronic stress exacerbates the distress of a vulnerable population. The traumatic pre-flight and flight conditions of the Rohingya from the preceding years have resulted in acute and chronic health problems such as physical injuries, musculoskeletal problems, and malnutrition. For others, the perilous journey has also resulted in clinical diagnoses of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health disorders.
Health Equity Initiatives is concerned about the rapidly heightened anxiety and stress of the Rohingya community in Malaysia that is caused by the escalating violence in Rakhine state. We therefore call on the international community to condemn the human rights violations in Myanmar and work towards stopping the wave of atrocities in Myanmar. Closer to home, it is crucial that the Malaysian government and people support refugees and asylum seekers towards the recognition of their rights and protection under the law, in humanitarian solidarity. Through the recognition of these rights, refugees and asylum seekers will be able to access the healthcare and gainful employment established and contribute formally to the country.
Health Equity Initiatives