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Education for All—Refugees Too

Rohingya girls taking religious education lessons at a Madrasah in the camps. Since January, the Government of Bangladesh has ordered the expulsion of Rohingya refugee children from the country’s schools, prompting an outcry from human rights groups. Credit: Kamrul Hasan/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 3 2019 (IPS) - Young Rohingya refugees are now facing new hardships as the Bangladeshi government cracks down on their education and future opportunities.

Since January, the Government of Bangladesh has ordered the expulsion of Rohingya refugee children from schools, prompting an outcry from human rights groups.

“The Bangladeshi government’s policy of tracking down and expelling Rohingya refugee students instead of ensuring their right to education is misguided, tragic, and unlawful…education is a basic human right,” said Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) senior children’s rights researcher Bill Van Esveld.

“If education is for all, education should be for Rohingya,” an expelled Rohingya student told HRW.

The expelled students, who are among the 34,000 registered Rohingya refugees living in camps in the Teknaf and Ukhiya sub-districts in Cox’s Bazar, were born in Bangladesh after their families fled Myanmar in the early 1990s.

However, the majority of Rohingya children, including those born in Bangladesh, are not formally recognised as refugees and are not allowed to enrol in Bangladeshi schools.

Without access to education, Rohingya families often paid for Bangladeshi birth certificates or other documents in order for their children to attend school.

One student said his family spent months saving to pay 3,500 taka or 42 dollars to buy a Bangladeshi brith certificate so that they can pass as Bangladeshi nationals.

Another student pretended his parents were dead to avoid listing their refugee camp address on his school application.

In January, officials sent a notice to the directors of seven secondary schools in Teknaf and a government official in Ukhiya which warned about the increase in Rohingya children’s school attendance and the “dishonest public representatives” who have helped them acquire documents.

“We were informed by the intelligence agencies under the Prime Minister’s Office that Rohingya children are attending different educational institutions in Teknaf sub-district. It is ordered … to take strict measures so that no Rohingya children can attend any Bangladeshi educational institutions outside of the camps,” the notice said.

While it is unclear how many Rohingya were expelled, the notice listed the names and addresses of 44 Rohingya students and included orders to expel them as well as any others.

The founder of one secondary school said intelligence officials warned him that having Rohingya students was “not safe for the country, not safe for our people.”

Van Esveld criticised the move, stating: “The solution to children feeling compelled to falsify their identities to go to secondary school isn’t to expel them but to let them get the education they deserve.”

Mohammed recounted the day he got expelled to HRW, stating: “[The headmaster] said that if there were any Rohingya, the Education Ministry will cancel the license of the school. When the notice was read out, the headmaster said, ‘I know who all the Rohingya are. Don’t hesitate, leave your books and IDs here and go.’ In the class, in front of the Bangladeshi students, they separated us out, and told us to leave.”

Rahim was in English class when a vice principal came and asked the Rohingya students to leave.

“I went to a secret place and I cried. My aim was to be a doctor. What should I do now?” he said.

While there are some schools in refugee camps, they are not formally accredited and only run through to grade 8.

Refugee children at camp schools are also barred from taking national examinations or receiving official certifications indicating that they passed any level of education.

Without formal education, Rohingya children have no proof of their education and are unable to apply to universities.

HRW urged Bangladesh to stop the expulsion of Rohingya students and to ensure all children are able to receive a formal education.

In April 2018, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights also expressed concern over the Rohingya’s lack of access to education and recommended Bangladesh to fully incorporate the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), of which Bangladesh is a party to, into domestic law.

CESCR includes the importance of children’s rights to all levels of education regardless of immigration or refugee status.

“As long as Rohingya refugee children aren’t able to obtain a formal education in the camps, Bangladesh should allow them to enrol in local schools,” Van Esveld said.

“The government should stop thwarting Rohingya students’ right to learn,” he added.

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