Mental health first aid on the frontlines of the Rohingya crisis
Rashida Begum, 23, lost her baby in a shipwreck after fleeing Myanmar. She receives counselling at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Roger Arnold
When the packed fishing boat broke up in the storm, Nurus Salam was tossed into the sea holding his only son.
He held him as tight as he could but waves loosened his grip. Suddenly two-year-old Abdul was gone.
“I keep hearing him crying out ‘papa, papa’ when I shut my eyes,” he whispers.
Nurus, 22, is among 27 survivors of a shipwreck on September 26 off the coast of Bangladesh that killed at least 23 people. Scores are still missing.
Nurus, who also lost his wife, Sanjida, 18, in the wreck, is speaking at a support session in a schoolroom at this refugee camp, led by a psychologist with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Twenty of the survivors gather in the room at the Peacock Primary School, which doubles as their temporary accommodation.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Rashida Begum, 23, tells a therapist, Mahmuda Mahmuda, how her seven-month-old daughter slipped from her grasp in the pounding surf.
This is mental-health first aid on the frontlines of the Rohingya crisis, a man-made disaster which has caused suffering on an unimaginable scale.
Sixteen-year-old Abder Rashid explains that his father was shot dead in Myanmar. His mother drowned when the boat broke up off the beach, and – as the eldest of four brothers who survived – he is the new head of the family.