The Rohingya Crisis: An Overview of the Psychosocial Challenges of the Rohingyas in Exile

The Rohingya Crisis: An Overview of the Psychosocial Challenges of the Rohingyas in Exile

Article by Monika Verma

Abstract: The conflict between Burmese Buddhists and Rohingyas remains a very contentious and ongoing phenomenon. In this article, the author examines how violence and confrontation in the Rakhine state affect the lives and livelihoods of the Rohingya people before and after the migration. It attempts to understand the experiences of the Rohingya people living in India and Bangladesh to understand persecution-related trauma, mental health disorders, or even the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The paper argues that the persecution experienced by the Rohingyas in Myanmar has left trauma in the lives of those living in exile.

Header image “im feeling anxious” by al shep is licensed under flickr.

A group of stateless people called the Rohingya, one of the world’s largest groups of stateless people, are among the most persecuted minorities in the world (Vardhini, 2017). As a result of the State’s oppressive policies and actions over the past several decades, Rohingyas have been deprived of their fundamental rights. They become victims of systematic human rights violations and abuses. The Rohingya community has therefore been forced to flee the country to avoid violence and persecution in their home country (The Equal Rights Trust, 2012, 8).
In addition to being victims of socio-political expulsion, marginalization, and communal violence, Rohingyas are traumatized by psychosocial1 challenges such as mental health disorders, persecution-related trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)2. There has been relatively little research on psychosocial effects caused by persecution, war, and other trauma suffered by Rohingyas in exile. Despite the fact that Rohingyas are being persecuted, the study suggests that their lives in exile are also made difficult by the memories or trauma they associate with those genocides or violent acts. This article is divided into two parts, the first addressing the situation of Rohingyas in Myanmar before the exile, and the second elucidates the Rohingyas’ memories and trauma related to persecution and massacre after living in exile, both in Bangladesh and India.


The study collected information primarily from secondary sources using the observation method. Content analysis is carried out on books and journals, reports of non-governmental organizations, newspaper articles, and online archives in print and electronic forms as secondary sources.

The Rohingya crisis: The Situation of Rohingyas in Myanmar before the exile

 Myanmar’s military forces and Rohingyas have clashed several times during the past few decades, including in the 1940s, in 1978, in the early 1990s, in 2012, and 2017. The Rohingya people were seen as not belonging to the Myanmar community and faced outrage at unprecedented levels where their homes, businesses, and mosques were burned and looted (Mithun, 2018). As described by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), this incident is considered a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” (Nebehay & Lewis, 2017). State and non-state actors (such as the military and Buddhist Rakhine people) often instigate conflicts against Rohingyas by asserting their ownership of the land and their belongings in the community. As a result of these violent campaigns, “over half of the Rohingya population” (Amnesty International, 2017, p. 44) fled Myanmar. For instance – between 1978 and 1991-92 more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees emigrate (The Equal Rights Trust, 2012). As a neighboring country of Myanmar, Bangladesh has been significantly affected by the continuous influx of Rohingya refugees into its country (The Equal Rights Trust, 2012).

During one of the significant violent events in 2012 and 2017, the Rohingyas, a group regarded as the country’s long-oppressed Muslim minority (Prasse-Freeman, 2017), were brought to the attention of international audiences. This crisis caused the loss of lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands and mass displacements (internal and external) of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas. The conflict has primarily erupted in the Sittwe and North Rakhine townships of Maungdaw, with isolated cases reported from Buthidaung and Rathedaung. According to Rohingya sources, it was believed that there were more than 10,000 Rohingya died after the June 2012 massacre in Sittwe alone and several thousand died in Maungdaw, Rathedaung, and Kyauktaw townships (Chakraborty, 2015; The Sail, 2012). In addition, it was estimated that at least 25,000 Rohingya homes were burned down in Sittwe, Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Rambre, and Kyauktaw townships (Chakraborty, 2015; The Sail, 2012). The authorities in the State and national government (including government-run media) are, on the other hand, outright denials that Rohingyas have been murdered in large numbers, even women and children (Ferrie, 2014). In a statement to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information, it has been disclosed that 78 people have been killed, while 87 have been injured due to the violation. A total of 4,821 buildings have been destroyed (Sittwe 3,635; Maungdaw 474; Rathedaung 367; Kyauttaw 171; Pauktaw 124; Ramree 35; Mrauk-U 15) as a result of the violation (Relief Web, 2012).

There has been a concerted attempt by the Myanmar military and the government of Aung San Suu Kyi to conceal the burning of villages from the international media and to portray the incident as Rohingya burning their own homes and invoking false charges of rape against them. As a means of justifying the commencement of a campaign of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing, Myanmar’s military portrayed them as ‘illegal immigrants,’ ‘terrorists,’ and their connection to the ‘transnational jihadist movement’ (Prasse-Freeman, 2017).
Some academicians and intellectuals have argued the importance of giving citizenship to Rohingyas in Myanmar to solve the ‘Rohingya crisis’ (Holliday, 2014). However, it is explicit that giving citizenship alone will not be sufficient to end hostilities. They also need to be granted rights within the State and the rule of law for their land and polity.

An overview of the psychosocial challenges among Rohingyas in exile

Due to the Rohingya crisis, not only have the Rohingyas’ lives been miserable for decades, but also been subjected to trauma such as rape, violence, loss of loved ones, house burnings, and forced migration (Hossain et al., 2020). The pre-displacement and post-displacement periods present many stressors for refugees and the resulting psychological effects of their distress. There have been numerous studies that have raised the possibility that these traumas can have a lasting impact on the survivors’ mental health and that this can result in psychological disorders or trauma such as Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Hollifield et al., 2002; Minihan et al., 2018; Montgomery, 2011; Ssenyonga et al., 2013).

There is a risk that people who have experienced abuse will develop mental health problems and PTSD. People with PTSD often experience hallucinations, extreme anxiety, and pugnacious behavior, which may result in alienation from the people around them. Besides being seen in adults, PTSD symptoms have also been seen in children (Miller et al., 2002). In addition to this, there is also a study that found massacre-related memories in refugees “include high, through variable, rates of posttraumatic disorder (PTSD) and depressive disorders, as well as various symptoms of anxiety and somatic distress” (Miller et al., 2002, p. 342). According to Hossain et al., “mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and stress disorder are projected to be higher among those living with refugee status than the general population because of war, trauma, resettlement, migration” (Hossain et al., 2020).

In addition, it is believed that traumatic experiences have a direct impact on the psychological situations of these individuals as well as on their health-related quality (HRQoL). Hossain et al. stressed that “depression and anxiety may persist for a long time after traumatic experiences and may have a direct impact on HRQoL even after the traumatic stimulus is gone” (Hossain et al., 2020, p. 47). Moreover, he stressed again that the anxiety and trauma among refugees were more likely to be observed with a higher risk “in those with older age, female gender, poor financial status, scattered family, poor living conditions, mental trauma” (Hossain et al., 2020, p. 47).

As mentioned above, exile-related stressors significantly exacerbate psychological disorders resulting from persecution-related traumas. Among the factors responsible for these symptoms is a lack of social support, social isolation, discrimination, and unemployment, all of which are strongly and positively associated with depression and anxiety and may also exacerbate the symptoms of persecution-related trauma (Miller et al., 2002).

The psychosocial challenges among Rohingyas in Bangladesh

The Rohingya, a group of ethnic minorities in Myanmar, have been facing severe brutalization due to rape, humiliation, murders, and forced eviction from their homeland. As discussed above, the Rohingya have suffered severe human rights violations and oppression. Among the significant challenges Rohingya refugees face in Bangladesh are psychological traumas and mental health challenges. They, however, have been subjected to various traumas associated with persecution and exile, which have contributed to their psychological well-being and health-related quality of life (HRQoL), adversely affecting them for an extended period.

Researchers Ahmed Hussain et al. reported in a study in which they analyzed the daily environmental stressors on the mental health of 148 Rohingya adults that Rohingyas currently living in exile in Bangladesh have worse conditions when it comes to their mental health (Hossain et al., 2021). Consequently, PTSD symptoms are often experienced by Rohingya refugees due to their complex interplay between history, the memory of suffering, and traumatized experiences due to the complex interaction of these factors. Contemporary distress and tension levels are directly related to PTSD or stressors associated with exile. PTSD, trauma, and stressors (related to exile) can have several adverse effects on a person. For instance – sleep disturbance, flashbacks, physical reactivity to persecution reminders, irritability, upset when reminded of the trauma, intrusive memories, avoiding thoughts of war, avoiding persecution reminders, increased startle response, the psychology of exile, social isolation, and loss of community, the loss of life projects, the lack of environmental mastery, the related loss of meaning and structure in everyday life, high rates of distress, and a variety of health problems.

The psychosocial challenges among Rohingyas in India

Rohingya refugees in India also suffer from mental health issues such as trauma and mental health conditions that have not been adequately researched. There have been very few academic scholars who have examined Rohingyas’ post-migration difficulties and challenges in India. Evidence suggests that the traumatic events they experienced before exile remain evident today, where they suffer from hallucinations, extreme anxiety, and pugnacious behavior (Basavapatna, 2018; Chaudhury & Samaddar, 2018; Velath & Chopra, 2015). In India, Rohingya are viewed as “illegal migrants” rather than as refugees. Thus, as a result, they are constantly in a state of anxiety and dread of being deported. In addition, they live in overcrowded refugee camps that lack adequate sanitation and hygiene and access to clean water, food, electricity, and proper shelter. Thousands of Rohingyas have also been affected negatively by the psychosocial challenges they face due to the lived experiences and exile-related stressors they have experienced, such as lack of identity, inadequate financial support, insufficient food, unavailability of medical care, and poor living conditions. It has been suggested that people who have experienced persecution-related trauma are less likely to be able to negotiate and navigate the various problems associated with adjusting to life in exile in a constructive manner. Similarly, some subjects may experience recurring nightmares associated with persecution and persistent insomnia, which significantly reduces their ability to cope with the stressors associated with life in exile, resulting in chronic fatigue.

The psychosocial challenges and related stressors faced by Rohingyas in exile are as follows3:



Among Rohingyas in Bangladesh and India, exile-related stressors significantly contribute to the exacerbation of psychological disorders caused by persecution-related trauma resulting from persecution-related experiences during exile. There is no doubt that persecution-related trauma and exile-related stressors play a crucial role in the mental health consequences (PTSD) experienced by the Rohingya population, who have been stateless and subjected to mass violence for a more extended time. To understand Rohingya’s mental health and psychosocial well-being, it is imperative to consider and acknowledge the effects of persecution-related trauma exacerbated by exile, which has negatively impacted the Rohingyas’ mental health and well-being.



1. Cited from:

2. “Posttraumatic stress is a syndrome of PTSD characterized by distracting ideas, nightmares, memories of past traumatic events, avoidance of trauma reminders, hypervigilance, and sleep disturbance (Hossain et al., 2021).

3. Cited from: Expulsion from the Motherland: Association between Depression & Health- Related Quality of Life for Ethnic Rohingya Living with Refugee Status in Bangladesh by Hossain et al., 2020; Psychosocial Impact of Rape: A Qualitative Study of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh by Naher et al., 2020; Daily stressors, trauma exposure, and mental health among stateless Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh by Riley et al., 2017.


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Hossain, A., Baten, R. B. A., Sultana, Z. Z., Rahman, T., Adnan, M. A., Hossain, M., Khan, T. A., & Uddin, M. K. (2021). Predisplacement Abuse and Postdisplacement Factors Associated With Mental Health Symptoms After Forced Migration Among Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh. JAMA Network Open, 4(3), e211801–e211801.

Hossain, K. M. A., Walton, L. M., Arafat, S. M. Y., Maybee, N., Sarker, R. H., Ahmed, S., & Kabir, F. (2020). Expulsion from the Motherland: Association between Depression & Health-Related Quality of Life for Ethnic Rohingya Living with Refugee Status in Bangladesh. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health : CP & EMH, 16(1), 46.

Miller, K. E., Worthington, G. J., Muzurovic, J., Tipping, S., & Goldman, A. (2002). Bosnian Refugees and the Stressors of Exile: A Narrative Study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 72(3), 341–354.

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