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Over 80,000 refugee children in Cox’s Bazar suffering from severe mental health issues. 

Save the Children, 25th August 2019 

  • Two years after they fled horrific violence in Myanmar, 17% of children living in the world’s largest refugee camp continue to suffer from the effects of their trauma
  • Save the Children calls on UK Government to protect children in crisis by leading global efforts to achieve justice for the Rohingya, including by pushing for action by the UN Security Council.
COX’S BAZAR – Two years after being forced from their homes by mass atrocities in Myanmar, over 80,000 children living in Cox’s Bazar are suffering severe mental distress [1], says Save the Children.

Children experiencing severe mental distress without adequate support can feel anxious, become withdrawn, aggressive and have feelings of grief, hopelessness and depression.

This latest assessment of numbers of children suffering severe mental distress is based on a United Nations report. Such children may experience a range of effects, including bed-wetting through to suicidal thoughts. Twelve-year-old Nur* has been deaf since birth. After his village was attacked in Myanmar he became separated from his parents, causing him great distress. He is now living with extended family in one of the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where he receives emotional support from Save the Children to help him cope with his traumatic experiences.

Nur’s carer, Rohima*, who brought him to the camp, said: “The fear that he felt in Myanmar is still gripping him. At night time, I have to keep him beside me all the time. Sometimes he gets convulsions. He makes a big sound when he gets a convulsion. That is why I have to keep him close to me. He wets himself at night.”

For children in Cox’s Bazar the reality is bleak. There is a lack of formal education, insufficient mental health and psychosocial support, and uncertainty around their future. As news of the possible expedited repatriation of 3,450 Rohingya refugees circulated this week, these children are at risk of being returned to Myanmar, where over 300,000 Rohingya children are living in apartheid-like conditions.

Some 128,000 displaced Rohingya and other Muslim communities remain trapped in confined camps in central Rakhine State, described by independent rights groups as “open air prisons”. There are concerns about the impact repatriation could have on children already suffering from mental distress as a result of the horrors they have witnessed. Refugees report feeling fearful and anxious following the recent reports about possible expedited repatriation to Myanmar.

Children make up more than half of the total refugee population in Cox’s Bazar – home to the largest refugee camp in the world. A total of 498,700 Rohingya children in the camps are in need of humanitarian assistance. 17% of them are estimated to be experiencing severe mental distress.

David Skinner, Head of Save the Children’s Rohingya Response in Cox’s Bazar, said: “For two years, Rohingya children and their families have been living in the camps with little hope of a bright future. They have suffered some of the worst human rights abuses of the 21st century, seeing things that no child should ever see. Some saw their parents killed and their homes set alight. Young girls were raped or saw loved ones being raped. And they continue to be exposed to stressful living conditions in the camp, where fears of trafficking, drugs and crime make children feel unsafe. “It is time for the world to create conditions to support the Rohingya’s safe and voluntary return to Myanmar, where the government must guarantee the same level of safety and humanity for all. The Rohingya deserve justice -- perpetrators of human rights violations and crimes against humanity must be held to account so Rohingya children are protected from these atrocities ever happening again.”

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, 61 local, national and international NGOs working in the two countries called for human rights for all to be respected in Rakhine State and for Rohingya refugees to have a role in decision-making about their own lives, including conditions for their return to Myanmar.

The NGOs voiced strong concerns about the safety of affected families in Rakhine State, including Rohingya, as the conflict escalates and humanitarian access remains limited. They urged the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to ensure that any return process is safe, voluntary and dignified. Alison Griffin, Head of Conflict and Humanitarian Campaigns at Save the Children, said: “Two years on since some of the most serious rights violations in recent history, the silence from the global community regarding the atrocities committed against the Rohingya is unacceptable. There is yet to be any meaningful justice for the Rohingya people, little to no improvement in the conditions within Myanmar, and children in Bangladesh face uncertainty about their future."

The UK Government has a unique role to play. It holds the pen on Myanmar at the UN Security Council, and must do more to exert its power and influence to lead global efforts to protect children and push for justice.” ENDS

*Names have been changed to protect identities


  • [1] Joint Child Protection and Education Sub-Sectors Assessment with Children and Adolescents, February 2019 Figures on the number of children in need of humanitarian assistance in Cox’s Bazar are from the UNHCR Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis 
  • Save the Children is one of the leading International NGOs in Cox’s Bazar, having reached more than 745,000 Rohingya refugees and members of the host community, including over 400,00 children, since the escalation of the crisis in August 2017.
  • Save the Children has more than 2,000 staff and volunteers supporting our programs in child protection, access to education, health and nutrition, water and sanitation services, as well as distribution of shelter and food items. We work in all the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
  • Save the Children has been working in Rakhine since 2010. We deploy nearly 300 staff from our offices in Sittwe and Pauktaw to support both humanitarian and development programs in the State. We provide essential services in all of the IDP camps in Sittwe and Pauktaw, as well as in 19 villages in Pauktaw.

Find out more about our work