One year after a mass exodus from Myanmar, the futures of more than 500,000 refugee children in Bangladesh hang in the balance
More than half a million Rohingya refugee children in southern Bangladesh are being denied access to a proper education; and international efforts are urgently needed to prevent them from falling prey to despair and frustration, says Unicef.
In a report titled “Rohingya Child Alert: Futures in the Balance, Building Hope for a Generation of Rohingya Children ", Unicef warns that children living in the cramped and rudimentary refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar face a bleak future—with few opportunities to learn, and no idea when they might return home.
Unicef Director (Emergency Operations) Manuel Fontaine told the Dhaka Tribune: “For about one third of children up to the age of 14, a network of learning centres and child-friendly spaces offer a chance to begin healing, and respite from their harsh surroundings.
“A semblance of normality has descended on the camps and the neighbouring communities, but it’s a normality that cannot last indefinitely," he said. "The refugees live on a knife’s-edge, gripped by uncertainty about their future, and still traumatized by their experiences in Myanmar.”
With no end in sight to their bleak exile, despair and hopelessness are growing among the refugees—alongside fatalism about what the future has in store. Older children and adolescents, deprived of opportunities to learn or make a living, are at risk of becoming a “lost generation”—ready prey to traffickers and those who would exploit them for political or other purposes.
“If we don’t make the investment in education now, we face the very real danger of seeing a ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya children," said Unicef Representative in Bangladesh Edouard Beigbeder. They will be, "Children who lack the skills they need to deal with their current situation, and who will be incapable of contributing to their society whenever they are able to return to Myanmar.”
The report said that huge international aid efforts, led by the Bangladeshi government, have managed to put basic services for the refugees in place. Fears of major disease outbreaks persist but epidemics have thus far been averted.
Providing education for the sudden influx of newly-arrived children was a huge challenge for Unicef and its education partners. By July 2018, some 1,200 learning centres were operating for almost 140,000 enrolled children..
However, there was no common curriculum, classrooms were often overcrowded, and schools lacked basic water and other facilities.
A new learning framework, designed to provide children with a higher-quality education – including competencies in literacy, language, and numeracy—as well as essential life-skills – is now under development.
The report also said the international community should invest in supporting quality education and life-skills for all Rohingya children—especially girls and adolescents who stand at the risk of being excluded.
It also calls on the Myanmar government to ensure that in Rakhine State, where more than half a million Rohingya remain, children from all communities have equal access to quality pre-primary, primary, and post-primary-level education.
The report highlights that a lasting solution to the crisis of the Rohingya requires the situation inside northern Rakhine to be addressed. It calls for the implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State—including the recognition of the basic rights of the Muslim population there. This should cover freedom of movement and the right to access basic services such as health, education, and meaningful livelihoods.
It calls on the Myanmar government to provide protection for Rohingya children and those of all other ethnic groups;and to create appropriate conditions on grounds that would allow for the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of Rohingya refugees to their former communities.
Unicef has been working on the ground, since the onset of the crisis, as part of a coalition of national and international agencies. In 2018, the agency appealed for US$28.2 million for its work educating Rohingya refugees. However, little over 50% of that funding has thus far been received.