With a shaky voice she describes the violence she witnessed. “I was hiding in the kitchen with my children so that no one could attack us,” she says. “When the violence broke out in the camps there were no men at home. We could hear the gunshots and we stayed silent, closing all the doors. We were frightened and shocked.”
Refugees in Cox Bazaar work through the trauma with MSF teams
After the violence, many refugees left their shelters and moved to other parts of the camp which were unaffected by the clashes. Our field team spoke with traumatized people who were too afraid to visit hospitals, health posts, or clinics for basic health care.
MSF Mental Health Activity Manager Kathy Lostos says despite the recent escalations, the situation is not hopeless—steps can be taken to improve the situation for those living in the camps, and in turn, their mental health. “The best thing to improve mental health outcomes is to restore a sense of safety,” she says. “Having some degree of control or autonomy over one's future is a determinant of creating a sense of safety. This includes things like engaging communities in decision-making processes or creating a sense of autonomy and control over one's future. [This] serves to mitigate the long-term effects of trauma.”
“When a group's future is uncertain and when a population is not integrated into a society, this creates a feeling of lack of safety,” says Lostos. “Feeling that your life is under threat can lead to helplessness, believing that ‘nothing that I do will matter,’ and this can have a huge impact on people’s mental wellbeing.”
Laiju, a volunteer in Kutupalong hospital, fled the violence and took shelter in a school with her family. “We left our homes and took shelter in a school premises inside the camp, and we were out of our home for almost 20 days,” she says.