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Rohingya refugee children a 'lost generation' as UN 'fails' to safeguard education

The representatives of about half a million refugees questioned efforts of officials from international organisations.

Date of publication: 8 October, 2019

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"We are facing so many difficulties here. We need education so that we do not have a lost generation.”
Rohingya teachers and activists in refugee camps expressed their disappointments with their limited access to education provided by the United Nations and other NGOs, according to the minutes of a meeting between the two parties obtained by Al Jazeera.

The representatives of about half a million refugees currently living in camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh questioned the efforts of officials from the international organisation in the meeting on May 13. 

They cited the slow speed at which they had been provided education, the absence of a Myanmar curriculum, and the lack of communication with the community itself. 

Khin Maung is a Rohingya youth activist who, during the meeting, expressed his frustration at the education provided to him and his peers.

"Two years we have been living in the camp with no access to education, why is this?" Maung said.

"We are facing so many difficulties here. We need education so that we do not have a lost generation," referring to those who came of age and suffered the atrocities of World War I.

UN guidelines stipulate that all refugee children are supposed to be taught the education curriculum of their host country, but in the Rohingya's case, it is not so simple. 

The military crackdown in Myanmar drove hundreds of thousands of Muslim-majority Rohingya people away using racially targeted genocide, in a minority persecution the UN labelled as one of the worst in the world. 

Consequently, Dhaka denied access to its curriculum to be used in the camps, and an ad-hoc portion of Bangladesh’s curriculum was used by the UN and its partners whilst they pushed the two countries to give full access to their teaching plans. 

The UN has been previously criticised for its strong ties with the Myanmar government, and putting their human rights violations in second priority.

Interviews by Al Jazeera revealed that in the year and a half before the meeting, there were weak efforts on the part of the international organisations to negotiate with the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar. 

Education specialist at UNICEF Bangladesh, Kenneth Russell, admitted that there was not enough co-operation to persuade the Myanmar authorities to hand over access to their teaching curriculum. 

"I guess the question is should the advocacy have continued to be more forceful … more consistent," he said. 

"I think that's a fair question that we need to reflect on." 

The UN has been previously criticised for its strong ties with the Myanmar government, and putting their human rights violations in second priority. 

An independent inquiry into the UN’s activities in the country found that the agency has performed "dysfunctionally" between 2010 and 2018. 

UNICEF representative in Myanmar, June Kunugi, said that claims regarding the UN’s lack of effort were "not accurate", citing that they had been attempting to convince the Myanmar government since 2017.

The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic and religious minority in Rakhine state in eastern Myanmar, most of whom are Muslim. They have been historically persecuted by state military and security forces, who over the years have killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands to flee the country altogether.

The army has justified their crackdown as a means of rooting out Rohingya insurgents.  

The military has become increasingly brutal in recent years, driving out Rohingya men, women and children from their homes and into refugee camps.

In 2017, an army crackdown against the minority in Rakhine state drove 740,000 people into Bangladesh amid allegations of mass atrocities by soldiers.

The UN probe accused the military of "war crimes", including forced labour and torture and said the Arakan Army, a militia fighting for the rights of ethnic Rohingya, was also guilty of abuses on a smaller scale.

Nearly a million Rohingya now live in refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh.

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