Emotional distress among Rohingya refugees in Malaysia


asylum seeker, forced migration, Malaysia, mental health, refugee, Rohingya, wellbeing


Malaysia hosts over 175,000 refugees or asylum seekers who are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over half of whom are ethnically Rohingya. Economic, social and health challenges are common among refugees residing in countries of asylum such as Malaysia with limited legal rights and uncertainty regarding the future. This study examined emotional distress among a sample of 115 Rohingya refugees living in urban areas within Malaysia. We utilised both quantitative and qualitative methods to assess psychosocial wellbeing. After measuring emotional distress with the Refugee Health Screener-15, we examined socio-demographic and environmental characteristics associated with distress scores. We then examined open-ended responses to qualitative questions regarding perceptions of difficulties refugees experience in Malaysia as well as perspectives on needed assistance. Findings indicated that emotional distress was widespread among this sample. Age was associated with higher rates of distress, while gender, time in Malaysia, employment and other measured factors were not associated with distress. Qualitative themes emphasised challenges with income, documentation and concerns regarding global conflict. Findings point to the need for services that address economic needs as well as reducing distress, in addition to policy challenges that will enable stability and security for Rohingya refugees.

Original Publication Citation

Shaw, S.A., Karim, H., Bellows, N., Pillai, V. (2019). Emotional distress among Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. Intervention: Journal of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Conflict Affected Areas, 17(2), 174-180.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Intervention: Journal of Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Conflict Affected Areas




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Social Work

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor