Young Rohingya deserve access to education

Eighteen months after being forced from Myanmar, refugees struggle for basic rights

Rohingya students are seen during a class at school, at Leda refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, February 9, 2019. Picture taken February 9, 2019. REUTERS/Jiraporn Kuhakan
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Speaking at the Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai, activists have shared their fears for a "lost generation" of young Rohingya. In 2017, 700,000 of the long-persecuted, majority-Muslim group were driven out of Myanmar in what the UN has described as a programme of "ethnic cleansing". Thousands now live in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, with virtually no access to education. Zainab Arkani, a woman who now lives in Canada, described conditions for young Rohingya as dire, even before the events of 2017. "I suffered mental and physical abuse and all kinds of assault," she said of her classroom experience. However, she added, "I was lucky I was among the one per cent who went to school because 99 per cent did not have the chance."

Although 180,000 displaced children now have access to learning centres, these cannot replace mainstream education. Schools provide vital skills and, for a lucky few, the foundation for social mobility and personal advancement. Yet, refugees are often denied this basic right. This problem is not solely an issue for the Rohingya – it affects children around the world. A 2018 UNHCR report found that four million refugee children do not attend school, an increase of half a million in just one year. This issue has worsened, as displaced people find themselves indefinitely stuck in camps that are not equipped for long-term inhabitation and often lack roads, sanitation and schools. Such is the fate of Syrian refugees who have languished for years in Jordan's Zaatari camp.

Eighteen months after the Rohingya were driven from their homes, charitable donations have now fallen drastically. “Refugees can do anything as long as you give them a chance,” said Ahmad Ullah, pleading for the international community not to turn its back on his people. His is a case in point. He was born in a refugee camp but made it out in 2009. He is now a youth coordinator of the Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative. We can only hope his plea is heard. The new generation of Rohingya deserve an education and the chance of a better life.