No #BackToSchool for Rohingya refugee children living in limbo

No #BackToSchool for Rohingya refugee children living in limbo
4 min read
24 Aug, 2018
Comment: The privilege of filing into classroom remains out of reach for over 380,000 Rohingya refugee children, writes Amy Johnson.
The routine of school helps children in crises regain a sense of normalcy [AFP]
In a couple of weeks' time, images of children posing in new school uniforms will flood social media - their shirts perfectly ironed and backpacks bulging - hashtagged #firstdayatschool and #proudparent.

It's a tradition we've come to expect. Yet the privilege of filing into a classroom this September remains out of reach for more than 380,000 Rohingya refugee children who have already lost so much.

A new report from the UN's children's agency (Unicef) released this week 
warns that these children are at risk of becoming a lost generation.

Exactly one year ago, 700,000 people from Myanmar began pouring over the border into Bangladesh. A devastating wave of violence in Rakhine State sparked an exodus almost unprecedented in its scale and speed.

Today, these families, most of whom are from the Rohingya ethnic group, live in the world's largest, most densely populated refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. More than half of them are children.

I saw the camps first-hand earlier this summer. Refugees live in hundreds of thousands of tiny, flimsy shelters perched perilously on eroding hillsides. Conditions in the squalid, overcrowded settlements are dismal. Sewage flows through parts of the camps, rife with water-borne diseases. Malnutrition is endemic and physical and sexual abuse high.

The UN's Inter-Sector Coordination Group recently warned that the lack of access to basic services exposes refugees, especially women and young girls, to risks such as trafficking, exploitation, survival sex, child marriage, and drug abuse.

Life here is unimaginably hard, especially for children.

The Rohinyga have been described as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world

The Rohinyga have been described as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. In Myanmar, they are not considered to be citizens; in Bangladesh, they are not officially recognised as refugees. Without status, the stateless Rohingya have no official protection.

Adults do not have the right to work and children cannot go to school. World Vision and other NGOs run temporary learning centres designed for younger children that are essentially safe places to play.

But only one-quarter of school-aged children attend these centres, which means that more than 380,000 are not receiving any formal education at all.

"I want to study, but I cannot," says 13-year-old Yajurjanat, who lives high on a hill in one of the sprawling camps littering the Bangladeshi hillside. She spends her days sweeping her family's small shelter, fetching water and helping her mother cook.

We know that the routine of going to school helps children in crises regain a sense of normalcy and recover from the psychosocial impact of war and being far from home. We also know that education opens doors in the future, helping children become working adults with skills and expertise.

Without it, the impact could devastate generations to come.

Back home in Myanmar, Shamima was a 'school leader', and loved teaching fellow children. She dreams of becoming a headmistress when she grows up, and is desperate for books in her own language so she can help children in the camps learn to read and write.

Children like Yajurjanat and Shamima deserve the chance to go to school, play with their friends and try to put the horrors of conflict behind them.

Until conditions are in place for the refugees' safe and voluntary return to Myanmar, the rights of children and adults, including access to education, must be upheld.

It's vital that the international community, including the UK government, prioritises education in this crisis and works with the government of Bangladesh to ensure children have access to quality schooling. It's as life-saving, and crucial, as food and clean water. We must not abandon them.

Amy Johnson is political advocacy officer at World Vision UK.

Follow her on twitter: @amyjay93

This article was originally published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.