DHAKA – Lack of access to formal education is leading to frustration and despair among young Rohingya refugees in southeastern Bangladesh, according to a report released on Friday by the United Nations’ children fund.
The UNICEF report, titled “Beyond survival, Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh want to learn,” comes two years after some 745,000 Rohingyas began arriving in Bangladesh while fleeing targeted violence in Myanmar.
The report said that 97 percent of Rohingya children aged between 15-18 were not attending any type of learning facility and called for an urgent investment in quality education and skills development in and around the sprawling camps where most of the refugees live.
“A lot of progress has been made for younger children in the past two years as more children aged between 4 to 14 years are under competency-based learning programs in the camp,” UNICEF spokesperson Alastair Lawson-Tancred told EFE before the presentation of the report.
“But the older children aged between 15 to 18 are already losing out. All they have in the camp is learning-based education but no formal education for them. The international community, especially the (Bangladeshi) government and Myanmar, need to work very closely together to try and address this,” he added.
According to the report, following the start of the mass exodus in August 2017, the overall education sector had provided non-formal education to 280,000 children aged between 4-14 by June 2019.
UNICEF said that it – along with its partners – has ensured access to learning for 192,000 of those children, who are enrolled in 2,167 learning centers.
However, this leaves over 25,000 children who are not attending any learning programs, according to the report, which added that another 640 learning centers are needed to ensure basic education for all children.
“There is a palpable sense of frustration, certainly among older teenagers,” the UNICEF spokesperson said.
“As the teenagers grow they realize how desperate the situation is and they are more aware of the difficulties that exist. As they become more aware, they get more frustrated,” he explained.
“For an overwhelming majority, education is a way out. And if they are not getting access to it, obviously they are getting frustrated,” Lawson-Tancred added.
Without adequate opportunities for learning, adolescents are also at risk of falling prey to human traffickers offering to smuggle desperate young Rohingyas out of Bangladesh, or to drug dealers operating in the area.
“It’s a constant risk at the camp. When you have a large number of people in such a small space, these kinds of dangers always are going to be there,” according to Lawson-Tancred.
The UNICEF report said that parents were concerned that the longer their children are deprived of education, the greater they are at risk of being exposed to exploitation and abuse.
“Our aim is to help equip adolescents with the skills they need to deal with the many risks they encounter, such as trafficking, abuse, and – in the case of girls – early marriage,” UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Tomoo Hozumi said in a statement during the report’s presentation.
In August 2017, the Myanmar military launched a campaign against Rohingyas after insurgents of the rebel group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked several security posts.
Nearly 738,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived at camps in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017 following a wave of persecution and violence in Myanmar that the UN has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed an agreement for the repatriation of Rohingyas the same year but the process has yet to start.
Meanwhile, most of the refugees have been living in poor sanitary conditions within the world’s biggest refugee settlement, located in Bangladesh’s southeastern border district of Cox’s Bazar.