Bangladesh has agreed for the first time to allow UNICEF to provide a formal education for Rohingya refugee children up to the age of 14 as long as classes are based on a Myanmar curriculum, officials said Tuesday.
Plans are not complete but the Rohingya children will receive instruction within the confines of the camps and not be taught in the same classes as Bangladeshi children, said Md Delwar Hossain, director-general of the South Asia desk at Bangladesh’s foreign ministry.
“The Bangladesh government in principle has decided to educate Rohingya children, though the government has yet to finalize the procedure,” he told BenarNews. “The curriculum being followed in Myanmar will also be followed here, so the children may cope once they go back to their homeland.”
The U.N. children’s agency is expected to submit a proposal for a pilot project to formally educate more than 10,000 Rohingya boys and girls at refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh. On Tuesday, however, it was unclear whether the program would be expanded to include hundreds of thousands of other children living in the region’s sprawling camps and refugee settlements.
UNICEF supports more than 2,500 of 3,600 small learning centers already set up in the camps in the region that borders Myanmar, said Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a communications officer with the U.N. agency.
“UNICEF has established learning centers where Rohingya children are taught Bengali, English and mathematics,” he said, adding that the agency had not received approval from the Bangladesh government about the proposal for providing Rohingya boys and girls with a formal education.
Mia Seppo, the U.N. representative in Bangladesh, said the move would “make it easier for them to go back home to Myanmar when the time is right for returns,” according to Agence France-Presse.
UNICEF issued a news release last week about its efforts to educate 260,000 children through the education centers run by 5,000 teachers and Rohingya volunteers. According to the agency, about 500,000 residents of the camps are under the age of 18, with the majority between the ages of 3 and 14.
“Many children have suffered traumatic injuries from gunshot wounds and extreme violence, restricting their mobility and access to services. We see many children with mixed learning abilities, physical disabilities, visual impairment and speech difficulties,” said Iffat Farhana, UNICEF’s education officer in Cox’s Bazar district.
“Each of these children has a right to education. With more learning centers and more teachers, UNICEF hopes to reach every child to help them learn, grow and realize their potential.”
The Bangladesh announcement came eight weeks after Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a scathing report, criticized the government for prohibiting international NGOs from providing a formal education to Rohingya children.
The 81-page report said the learning centers at the camps could accommodate 40 children at a time and run three two-hour shifts to accommodate more children. About half of the centers did not have restrooms or potable water nearby.
“Bangladesh has made it clear that it doesn’t want the Rohingya to remain indefinitely, but depriving children of education just compounds the harm to the children and won’t resolve the refugees’ plight any faster,” Bill Van Esveld, HRW’s associate children’s rights director, said in the report published in December.
Enamur Rahman, Bangladesh’s state minister for disaster management and relief, responded by saying that the nation’s laws precluded Rohingya from receiving a formal education in Bangladeshi schools.
“[A]fter their illegal entry into Bangladesh, there is no opportunity for anyone to study in our schools or curriculum,” he said at the time.
More than 1 million displaced people have been living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, including about 740,000 Rohingya who fled their homes in neighboring Rakhine state since late August 2017. They fled to Bangladesh after a brutal counter-offensive by Myanmar’s security forces that was launched in the wake of deadly Rohingya rebel attacks on government security posts in Rakhine.
Adbur Rashid, a Rohingya leader in the Leda camp, and Md Shahjahan, a leader in the Kutupalong camp, praised efforts to educate their children.
“If the Bangladesh government gives us such an opportunity, our children will stand on their own feet,” Shahjahan told BenarNews.