Myanmar refugee children exhibiting signs of trauma, says World Vision, as it scales up response in Bangladesh

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  • World Vision scales up relief planning as Myanmar refugee numbers increase to 809,000 more than half who are children
  • Increased reports of sexual and gender-based violence
  • Camp numbers triple over two weeks, and continue to grow
  • Only half of needed essential services are available
  • UN launches USD$434m appeal to reach more than one million refugees

COX’S BAZAR, 4 OCTOBER 2017 – Aid agency World Vision warns there is a small window of opportunity to save the lives of children and their families who have fled recent violence in Myanmar.

“We’re seeing severe overcrowding, a lack of essential services, and increased reports of sexual assaults of women and children,” says World Vision’s director in Bangladesh, Fred Witteveen.

Children unaccompanied by, or separated from, adults or family members have been identified at all refugee sites, raising fears of vulnerability to child trafficking.

More than 1,600 unaccompanied children have been registered, and we suspect this is only a fraction of the true figure,” says Witteveen. “They are hungry and alone. They are all at risk of malnutrition, disease, mental health issues, exploitation and abuse.

“We have a very short amount of time in which to stabilise the health of children who have recently arrived. Most of them report eating only one meal a day, usually rice with salt, and it won’t be long before we see severe medical complications from malnutrition. They’re weakened after weeks on the run, and then moving around the camp to find dry, safe ground.

“We’re seeing very worrying trends, with exceptionally high numbers of reported sexual assault. Our concern is this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s hard to diagnose or see wounds beneath the surface, especially in these early days when refugees and responders are in survival mode.”

World Vision is responding, alongside partners, to basic needs in refugee sites along the border, but is concerned not enough is happening quickly enough.  

“We have reached 15,000 refugees with a two-week supply of food and essentials. And we are aiming to reach another 45,000. But we know this isn’t enough, and we are poised to do more,” pledged Witteveen.

The organisation said immediate needs include emergency shelter, food, clean water and improved sanitation, and medical care.

“Once physical needs are met, we must focus on the mental and psychosocial needs that are generally the second wave of diagnoses in these settings. Refugees’ needs are still under-diagnosed,” acknowledged Witteveen.

“But I can tell you what I have seen having met refugee children and their families, and that is some are stoic with their grief, while others are more openly devastated. They’ve seen their husbands massacred, their homes burned to the ground, lost children who didn’t survive the escape. There are malnourished mothers who helplessly cradle newborns they cannot breastfeed, and children who stood by their mothers while their fathers were rounded up and killed. We’re only seeing the surface of their suffering given the chaos.

“World Vision stands against all forms of violence against children, no matter how it is inflicted or by whom. Our concern is how to respond to the overwhelming needs of children and their families seeking shelter and help in Bangladesh.”

Eleven-year-old Somsida, who now lives in the camp, told World Vision: “When we were fleeing, I cried because I heard the sounds of firing, people shouting and crying.

“In my dreams I see people running, crying, shouting and fighting and suddenly I get up in fear,” says Somsida, currently living in a refugee camp with her family. Somsida’s two uncles were killed in the violence that erupted in Rakhine State.

“When we were fleeing, I cried because I heard the sounds of firing, people shouting and crying which scared me,” says Somsida.

World Vision and other partners on the ground in Cox’s Bazar are part of a UN-led humanitarian response  plan that seeks USD 434 million to provide life-saving aid until February 2018.

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Formoreinformation, spokespeople, high-res photos, videos from campsandinterviews, pleasecontact:

Annila Harris Bangladesh Emergency Response Communications Manager (on deployment)   Mobile:  +919650211822 Skype: annilaharris (Hindi, English)

Saibal Sangma Director - Communications, World Vision Bangladesh Mobile: +8801711543507 Skype: Saibal.sangma (Bengali, English)

Phuong Tran East Asia Communications Director, World Vision Mobile: +66870560077 Skype: phuongtran_comms (French, Spanish, Vietnamese, English)

Note to editors:

World Vision has been working in Bangladesh since 1972 when it started with emergency relief operation

 For 20 years, World Vision has had a regular field presence 67km from the affected area in Cox’s Bazar where it runs a community development  program.

About World Vision

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation conducting relief, development and advocacy activities in its work with children, families, and their communities in nearly 100 countries to help them reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.

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