Without School, A ‘Lost Generation’ of Rohingya Refugee Children Face Uncertain Future

A Rohingya refugee girl sells vegetables in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. Access to education is extremely limited in the camps, and most children — particularly girls — receive little to no formal education, Aug. 28, 2018.  AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

A Rohingya refugee girl sells vegetables in Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. Access to education is extremely limited in the camps, and most children — particularly girls — receive little to no formal education, Aug. 28, 2018. AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

The boy’s eyes lit up when he talked about his dream of becoming a doctor.

Seven-year-old “Mohammad” – not his real name – is a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar. I met him at a learning center at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in early July 2019.

After sharing his aspirations, Mohammed quickly remembered reality.

“I know my dreams will never come true,” he said with a faint smile.

Refugee crisis of global proportions

Mohammed is among the more than 700,000 Rohingya who have taken refuge in Bangladesh after an ethnic cleansing campaign of rape, killing and torture by the Myanmar military in mid-2017. They joined the more than 200,000 Rohingyas who had previously fled Myanmar’s brutal efforts to rid the Buddhist-majority country of this marginalized Muslim minority.

Of the newly arrived Rohingya, three-quarters are women and children, according to the United Nations.

In a noteworthy humanitarian gesture, the Bangladeshi government has given refuge to these persecuted people. Aided by Bangladeshi community organizations, various UN agencies and other international donors, the Rohingya have been receiving shelter, food, clothes and basic health care since the massive exodus in 2017.

This essential care, which cost an estimated US$920.5 million in 2019represents a gargantuan global effort. Still, the resources are woefully inadequate.

Most Bangladeshi refugee camps are overcrowded and, as a result, unhygienic. Residents survive on the absolute bare minimum of nutrition and other necessities. Monsoon rain, cold and landslides are everyday threats for these Rohingya, as I’ve witnessed firsthand during my visits to Bangladeshi camps in 2017 and 2019.

It is a dismal existence for all. But it is the plight of the roughly 500,000 Rohingya children living in limbo that strikes me as bleakest.

Concerns of a lost generation

Research shows that future of refugee children grows more imperiled the longer they remain out of school.

In many countries that host substantial refugee populations, including Turkey, Lebanon and Uganda, the United Nation’s refugee agency and the United Nations Children’s Fund ensure children receive a quality, full-time education, either at the camps or in nearby public schools.

Even so, just 23% refugee children worldwide are enrolled in secondary school, according to the UN’s High Commission on Human Rights. Just 1% attend university.

Because Bangladeshi authorities have not granted the Rohingya official refugee status and consider them instead “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals,” the roughly 500,000 Rohingya children in the country have no access to a formal education. Rohingya children are not permitted to attend Bangladeshi public schools.

The United Nations Children’s Fund and its partners offer Rohingya refugees aged 4 to 14 two-hour daily lessons on Burmese, English, math and life skills at about 1,600 learning centers located at the camps. These classes keep about 145,000 Rohingya children – or about 30% of the Rohingya youngsters in Bangladesh – occupied for part of the day but do not provide the kind of formal education that will allow the children to work toward a high school degree and enter the job market.

The camps offer no schooling at all for Rohingya refugee adolescents aged 15 to 18.

English-language exercise books at a UNICEF-supported ‘learning center’ at one of the Kutupalong refugee camps in Bangladesh. Rubayat Jesmin, Author provided

English-language exercise books at a UNICEF-supported ‘learning center’ at one of the Kutupalong refugee camps in Bangladesh. Rubayat Jesmin, Author provided

Some teenagers, mostly boys, have turned to madrassas, or Islamic learning centers, where they can receive a religious education.

The remaining Rohingya children who attend neither UNICEF classes nor madrassas are simply left to fill their own day. At the Rohingya camps, I saw boys working in shops, playing cards or sitting idle at all hours of the day.

When I asked Mohammad what he does when he is not in school, he told me that he “takes care of his family.”

“I play with the other kids, too,” he added with a grin.

Adolescent girls, I learned, are often kept at home by their parents because of the Rohingya’s conservative social and religious norms.

The camps can also be dangerous for girls. Human traffickers have been known to target young Rohingya women, promising them jobs outside the camps. Girls face other forms of violence and human rights abuse at Bangladesh’s camps, too, including child marriage.

Bangladeshi camps for the Rogingyas are typically overcrowded, unhygienic, muddy and prone to landslides. Rubayat Jesmin, Author provided

Bangladeshi camps for the Rogingyas are typically overcrowded, unhygienic, muddy and prone to landslides. Rubayat Jesmin, Author provided

Rohingya repatriation

Growing up in unstable conditions, with no possibility of study, Rohingya children like Mohammed are at risk of becoming a lost generation.

Their limbo may not last forever. In response to heightened international pressure, Myanmar in November 2017 agreed to take the Rohingyas back starting November 2018.

However, their return was postponed due to protests by the refugees, who feared conditions in Myanmar was not yet safe. The United Nations and other international refugee services have also voiced concern about sending the Rohingya back, saying there was no indication that the Myanmar government had punished the people responsible for the crimes in Rahkine state, nor agreed to give the Rohingya citizenship.

Considered foreigners in both Myanmar, their native country, and Bangladesh, where they’ve sought refuge, the Rohingya Muslims are the world’s largest stateless people.

While the negotiations for their repatriation continue, a generation of traumatized Rohingya children wait for their futures to begin.

RUBAYAT JESMIN is a Doctoral Student at the College of Community and Public Affairs, Binghamton University, State University of New York.


Climate Apartheid: The Prediction for our Future

A road flooded. maxinux. CC by 2.0.

A road flooded. maxinux. CC by 2.0.

Mother Earth is dying and we are only furthering her demise. Not only that, but we are creating an environment and society that will soon be the rich versus the dead, according to Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, in his report. “There is no shortage of alarm bells ringing over climate change, and an increase in biblical-level extreme weather events appear to be finally piercing through the noise, misinformation, and complacency, but these positive signs are no reason for contentment,” Alston said. “A reckoning with the scale of the change that is needed is just the first step.”

Alston is quick to call out government leaders, like President Donald Trump, about how complacent they are being concerning environmental issues. Alston states, “Somber speeches by government officials have not led to meaningful action and too many countries continue taking short-sighted steps in the wrong direction.” Alston’s report is not only a call to action—it is a warning.

Alston deems that with climate change will come “climate apartheid”, meaning “the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” Alston states that, “while people in poverty are responsible for just a fraction of global emissions, they will bear the brunt of climate change, and have the least capacity to protect themselves.”

So not only is climate change affecting our environment, but it will affect our lives, threatening to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said. “It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places [where] poor people live and work.”

The risk of a climate apatheid also increases the possibility of “climate refugees”, or people who will have to seek lives elsewhere because the dying environment has made their current home unlivable. In a town in Gwynedd, Wales,  Phil Black reports that the inhabitants of said town might become “climate refugees” given the rising sea levels and how close the town is to those levels. While there are people, such as Lisa Goodier, a project manager attempting to make preparations for those in the town to leave, many of the townspeople refuse to give up their properties or believe the scientific facts presented to them. They would rather stay until they truly have to leave.

It is perspectives like this that make our environmental crisis what it is today. The facts are there, the evidence has been proven, but if we continually ignore what is right in front of our faces, it will be too late. Well, it will be too late for anyone who is not rich because the rich will always have the ability to pay and get rid of anything that inconveniences them.

It is not just about our environment anymore, it is about us, as a human species. If we let things continue how they are, millions will die and it will only be time until we are all wiped out. Alston states, “The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex.”

We are responsible for our future. If we don’t take responsibility, or rather, if those who have the money and are making the problems do not take responsibility, it is not just our environment at risk. It is our humanity. 

Nothing will change if those who have the money do not fix the issues. And by the looks of Alston’s report, we need change, now.

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form. 

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Students Across Europe Protest in Hopes of a Greener Future

After years of political gridlock surrounding climate change legislation, students emerge as a force for change.

Photo of a student protester. By  Josh Barwick  on  Unsplash .

Photo of a student protester. By Josh Barwick on Unsplash.

Thousands of students across Europe left school on Friday, February 15 to protest the lack of action on climate issues in their countries. In what the New York Times called a “coordinated walk out for action on climate issues,” elementary, middle, high school, and undergraduate students came together to demand a greener future. In London, protestors held signs reading “The ocean is rising and so are we” and “Act now or swim later.”

The student-led movement for climate action that is currently taking Europe by storm began with 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. In September, Thunberg started skipping class to stage sit-ins at the Swedish parliament, demanding that her government seriously address climate change. Thunberg’s action inspired teens worldwide, some of whom created the global movement Youth Strike 4 Climate and began organizing protests and walkouts, using social media to coordinate efforts. According to the New York Times, demonstrations have been held in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland, among others.

The New York Times writes that the new organization gained even more energy in October of 2018 when a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change disclosed that the world has only twelve years to change its climate policy before the consequences of inaction such as food shortages, rising sea levels, floods and forest fires manifest themselves.

Thunberg remains a notable voice in the movement she inspired, and went on to speak at the global climate-change conference in Poland last December. “You say you love your children above all else — and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes,” she told politicians at the conference. “Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.”

In British schools, protesters received mixed reactions from teachers and staff. While some encouraged students, others threatened to punish them for skipping class. “My school was not supportive at the start. They said I would get detention for unauthorized absence,” Anna Taylor, the seventeen-year-old co-founder of the UK Student Climate Network told the New York Times.

Sixteen-year-old Bonnie Morely, who was attending the strike with friends from school, told the New York Times that a head teacher had taken down posters advertising the strike in her school’s common areas. “They’re treating us like we are doing something really wrong,” Morley said. “The future of our planet is looking really bleak, and all the politicians are asleep at the wheel. We have to wake them up, and I think thousands of kids on the streets will do just that.”

Like the teachers, European politicians displayed mixed reactions, with some supporting the students and others going so far as to suggest that the strikes were the product of a secret governmental organization.

According to the New York Times, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May said that, “everybody wants young people to be engaged in the issues that affect them most so that we can build a brighter future for all of us. But it is important to emphasize that disruption increases teachers’ workloads and wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for.”

Thunberg tweeted in response: “British PM says that the children on school strike are ‘wasting lesson time.’ That may well be the case, but then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”

“We don’t miss school because we’re lazy or because we don’t want to go to school,” Jakob Blasel, a high school student who assisted with the organization of an earlier protest in Berlin told the Washington Post. “We can’t go to school, because we have to strike. We have to deliver an uncomfortable message to our leaders that it can’t go on this way.”

Youth for climate is currently planning another round of protests and another global youth strike for March 15. The movement is growing and more students from nations across the world are expected to join.

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her. 

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Future Memories

The title is about the changing world we are living in regards to climate change. Some of the glaciers you see will literally be gone in 5 to 10 years from now.

This is Max Rive’s first movie, and it is all recorded with a mavic pro in Southern Greenland during his photo tours.