By Md. Kamruzzaman
COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AA) - A teenage Rohingya girl and her friends were playing and walking across the hills at a refugee camp where such groups of teens could be found everywhere because they have no opportunity to go to higher education or college after completing their primary school.
Ruksana Khatun, 13, fled the brutal military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State with her parents in August 2017 and enrolled in a primary school in Bangladesh's southern border district of Cox's Bazar, where approximately 1.2 million persecuted people now live, making the settlements the world's largest refugee camp.
Khatun, dressed in black and white, told Anadolu, "I attended a camp-based learning center and completed my primary level of education one year ago."
"Now I have no way to continue my education because there is no institution of higher learning here," she said as she stood with some other children in front of a tent on top of a hill.
The girl lives in Refugee Camp No. 11, where an inferno on March 5 destroyed over 2,000 tents, displacing nearly 16,000 Rohingya.
"Sometimes, I read my previous books at home, but nothing is left now because the fire destroyed our entire house," the girl said with a smile because she was too young to understand the tragedy while other children were busy taking her away to play.
Talking to Anadolu, many other children told almost the same thing and added that their learning center was also destroyed by fire and has not yet been rebuilt.
"Yes, there are no opportunities for higher education for Rohingya people because they are not citizens of this country," Bangladesh's Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mohammed Mizanur Rahman told Anadolu.
"They should return to their country because they are Mynamay's displaced people," he said, asserting that this is the only long-term solution to the crisis. The government's primary goal is to ensure their safe and dignified return to their homeland, he added.
The government is provided primary-level education according to the Myanmar syllabus, and providing higher education to Rohingya is not the host country's mandate, he said, adding that it is practically impossible.
More than half of the Rohingya population in refugee camps is under the age of 18, with the majority being between the ages of 5 and 10, Rahman said, adding that “we are extremely grateful to the government of Bangladesh for allowing the Myanmar curriculum to be used for the education of the Rohingya children."
He noted that providing quality education for such a large number of refugee children is a huge challenge because there are not enough qualified teachers in the Rohingya community to teach them in Myanmar's language.
“And we don’t have that much space to provide the segregated class or space for the students,” he underlined, adding that Bangladesh believes these people will return and enjoy their rights in their home country.
"Until then (repatriation), we are attempting to provide education and engage these people in productive activities through various technical and vocational training within our limited livelihood projects in the camps," said the host country's top refugee official.
- Is education a luxury?
Speaking to Anadolu, many Rohingya urged international communities and global leaders not to overlook the basic human right of education for a persecuted people in a civilized world and to mobilize specific funds for quality and higher education for refugees until their safe, peaceful, and dignified repatriation.
Citing the squalid makeshift tents encircled by barbed wire fences as an open prison and frequent incidents of fire as a painful chapter for them in Bangladesh, a Rohingya father of four children, Mohammad Edris, asked Anadolu whether education is a right or a luxury.
“When I left Rakhine in the wake of genocide, I had two children and now I am the father of four,” Edris said, expressing his deep concern about the future of all of his children, who are growing up uneducated.
Amid frequent fires and uncertainty about peaceful and dignified repatriation, the Rohingya people believe that the only source of mental peace for them could be quality education for their children.
"Here, our children have at best the opportunity to get a limited scale of primary education at some camp-based learning centers, which is not at all enough for the future leadership of a nation," Mohammad Alam, a Rohingya community leader, told the Turkish leading news agency while rebuilding his tent at the fire-riddled site.
He lamented that education is a luxury for most of them in refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they are considered displaced citizens of Myanmar rather than refugees, and that higher education is "a far-reaching dream."
“The more days we are passing here with the prospect of a grim future, the more frustrations we experience,” he observed.