Specialists to treat Rohingya victims of sexual assault at Malaysia's field hospital in Bangladesh

Rohingya refugees wait for the start of relief aid distribution at Balukhali refugee settlement, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. PHOTO: REUTERS

COX'S BAZAR (Bangladesh): A medical team from Malaysia tasked to run a RM3.5million (S$1.1 million) field hospital for Rohingya refugees expects to receive a high number of maternity cases involving rape victims as well as ailments caused by unsanitary living conditions.

Work carried out by Malaysian Armed Forces personnel to get the hospital up and running will be completed by Monday (Nov 27). It will then be handed over to the Malaysian Health Ministry.

The 50-bed field hospital, which measures 100m by 70m, will start operations on Dec 1. The Malaysian Health Ministry's team of 50 medical and support staff include specialists and psychiatrists to provide treatment for the women and girls, reported New Straits Times on Monday (Nov 27).

"The most critical need here is maternal health care and medical and psychiatric treatment for rape victims," Colonel Dr Mohd Arshil Moideen was quoted as saying by Sun Daily.

He also said that the rise of infectious diseases was the most challenging problem in any humanitarian missions.

"When the hospital begins operations on Dec 1, it will be a complete field hospital in this area, with an operational cost of RM1.5 million per month... But there is no price for humanitarian works," he added.

Dr Arshil, who is the chief technical adviser for the project, said the team also expects to receive a high number of cases, especially for gastroenteritis ulcers due to the refugees' unsanitary living conditions.

"This hospital will be the most complete facility (at the refugee camps), with services provided at par with a district specialist hospital, once it is up and running. It will (also) receive patients who are referred here by district hospitals around the area," he told a group of 13 Malaysian lawmakers who visited the refugee camps and hospital site here on Saturday.

"The hospital will be able to provide specialist care including surgery and treatment for infectious diseases," Dr Arshil said in his briefing to the lawmakers.

The hospital is sited in Ukhiya, a 10-minute walk from the main Rohingya refugee camps in Kutupalong and Bhalukali.

Malaysia's Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Aziz Kaprawi, who was part of the parliamentary delegation, also launched a Malaysia-sponsored madrasah at one fo the refugee camps.

He told the refugees that Malaysians will always be there for them.

He said the Malaysian government carries the aspiration of its citizens who want the Rohingyas' rights to be defended.

"Our Prime Minister took the issue of the Rohingyas up to the US President. We will be with you until the end," he said.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said in a media briefing earlier this month (Nov) that the field hospital, once ready, would create a "a very strong presence of Malaysia", reported The Star newspaper.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, which Pope Francis will visit later this week after Myanmar, where they live in refugee camps as they await a repatriation deal between the two countries.

Faced with a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, the two governments signed a pact on Nov 23 agreeing that the return of the Rohingya to Myanmar should start within two months.

Human Rights Watch, in a report released earlier this month, said the Myanmar security forces have committed widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

The 37-page report, All Of My Body Was Pain: Sexual Violence Against Rohingya Women And Girls In Burma, documents Myanmar's military's gang rape of Rohingya women and girls and further acts of violence, cruelty, and humiliation.

Humanitarian organisations working with refugees in Bangladesh have reported hundreds of rape cases. Human Rights Watch said these most likely only represent a small proportion of the actual number because of the significant number of reported cases of rape victims being killed and the deep stigma that makes victims reluctant to report sexual violence, especially in crowded emergency health clinics with little privacy.

Myanmar's army has denied all allegations of rape and killings by security forces.

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