This has provoked an outcry in the global human rights community which is very focused on the Rohingya situation.
“The Bangladeshi government’s policy of tracking down and expelling Rohingya refugee students instead of ensuring their right to education is misguided, tragic, and unlawful,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Education is a basic human right. The solution to children feeling compelled to falsify their identities to go to secondary school isn’t to expel them but to let them get the education they deserve,” Bill added.
The expelled students were born in Bangladesh after their parents fled Myanmar as refugees in the early 1990s. They were not allowed to enroll in Bangladeshi schools.
They attended non-formal primary schools in refugee camps but had no access to secondary education that would let them go to a university or even become an accredited high school graduate.
So Rohingya families paid for Bangladeshi birth certificates or obtained other documents to allow their children to pass off as Bangladeshi nationals in order to continue their education.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 Rohingya refugee students, including 4 girls, who were expelled from six secondary schools this year when school administrators went to each classroom and read out a government-issued notice ordering their expulsion.
The students are among the 34,000 registered Rohingya refugees living in camps in the Teknaf and Ukhiya sub-districts, in Cox’s Bazar.
Their legal status is distinct from the 740,000 Rohingya who fled Myanmar since August 2017 and the estimated 200,000 who had escaped previous crackdowns by Myanmar’s military.
Bangladesh does not formally recognize these latter groups as refugees or permit them to access any formal education. However, under international human rights law applicable to Bangladesh, all children, including refugees, have an equal right to education.
In November 2018, the Prime Minister’s Office raised concerns about Rohingya children attending Bangladeshi secondary schools, leading to a government investigation.
On January 23, the Bangladeshi official responsible for refugee issues in Cox’s Bazar sent a notice to directors of seven secondary schools in Teknaf and a government official in Ukhiya.
The notice, seen by Human Rights Watch, warns that ‘the rate of Rohingya students attending school has been increasing,’ and that ‘dishonest public representatives’ have helped them obtain Bangladeshi documents, and that the number of Rohingya refugees ‘is increasing day by day’.
“We were informed by the intelligence agencies under the Prime Minister’s Office that Rohingya children are attending different educational institutions in Teknaf sub-district. It is ordered … to take strict measures so that no Rohingya children can attend any Bangladeshi educational institutions outside of the camps,” said a school director but he was unwilling to be named.
A Rohingya community leader told Human Rights Watch that police, intelligence, and other officials visited four Bangladeshi secondary schools in the Teknaf sub-district on January 15 and 16 and ordered them to expel Rohingya students. The founder of Leda High School said intelligence officials warned him that having Rohingya students was ‘not safe for the country, not safe for our people,’ Reuters reported.
School officials knew which students were Rohingya or could find out by examining their enrollment records.
The notice lists the names, secondary schools, parents’ names, and refugee-camp addresses of 44 Rohingya students, including 13 girls, and orders schools to expel them and other Rohingya students.
Six Rohingya students who had been in grades 9 and 10 at various schools but had been expelled said that all 89 of their Rohingya classmates were expelled, although they did not know the total number expelled from all classes.
A Reuters report said 64 students had been expelled from one school. About 470 Rohingya students from one refugee camp had been enrolled in Bangladeshi schools, with some still at risk of expulsion, a Rohingya camp representative said.
Bangladesh has provided no legal pathway for Rohingya refugee children to attend school, and prohibits them from receiving formal education in the camps or enrolling in schools outside the camps.
One student said his family borrowed and saved for months to pay 3,500 taka (US$42) to buy a Bangladeshi birth certificate. Another said he had to pretend his parents were dead to avoid reporting their refugee camp address on his school application and convinced a Bangladeshi teacher to pretend to be his uncle with a gift of fruit worth 1,000 taka (840 Indian rupees).
‘If education is for all,’ said an expelled Rohingya student, then ‘education should be for Rohingya too’.
Expelled students protested to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and tried to meet with Bangladeshi officials, but without success, they said. Aisha A., 17, said her headmaster warned Rohingya students not to return: “Don’t come tomorrow. If you do, we will hand you over to the TNO [Thana Nirbahi Officer, a local civil service executive official]. We face many troubles because of you.”
Denial of Education to Rohingya Refugee Children
The vast majority of Rohingya children, including those born in Bangladesh into unregistered families, as well as those who arrived since the military began a campaign of ethnic cleansing in August 2017, are not formally recognized as refugees and face restrictions on access to education.
There are an estimated 1.2 million ethnic Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. In addition to the 740,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar in August 2017, an estimated 200,000 Rohingyas had fled previous attacks and persecution, and lived as unregistered refugees in Bangladesh.
In addition, there are about 34,000 registered Rohingya refugees living in two official camps in the Cox’s Bazar district, including 8,000 school-age children who are enrolled in schools in the camps. Beginning in the late 1990s, the Bangladesh government allowed Rohingya children who were registered refugees to attend two hours of classes per day with volunteer teachers, but did not allow a formal curriculum. Later, they could attend schools in the camps for registered refugees that are supported by UNHCR.
Since 2007, the government has allowed the schools to teach a version of the Bangladeshi curriculum, but has not accredited the camp schools, which only run through class 8. Refugee children at the camp schools, unlike Bangladeshi students, cannot sit for national examinations or receive official certification that they passed primary school, junior high school, or secondary school.
Government officials say that refugee children are barred from receiving a formal education at schools outside the camps. Without formal education, Rohingya children have no official recognition of their education and no opportunity to apply to universities.
The Rohingya students expelled from secondary schools since January had overcome a haphazard, disruptive educational history in the camps. Initially, in 2007, these children began to study a version of the Bangladeshi curriculum translated into English, but only from class 1 to class 4 of primary school.
Three students told Human Rights Watch that they had to repeat a year or more of primary school in the camp while waiting for higher-level classes to be opened up. School authorities in the camp also required them to repeat several years of primary school after introducing the Bangladeshi curriculum. One student said that his class was told to repeat their entire first four years of primary school, at which point 40 out of his 60 classmates dropped out. Later, by 2017, the government allowed Rohingya refugee children to pursue schooling up to class 8. Some of the children then paid for Bangladeshi identity documents to continue their education in schools in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which guarantee children’s rights to free primary education, available and accessible secondary education, and higher education on the basis of capacity, regardless of their immigration or refugee status. The CRC specifies that education should develop respect for a child’s own ‘cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, (and) the country from which he or she may originate’.
Human Rights Watch claims that by ratifying the CESCR, Bangladesh declared it would implement the right to education ‘in a progressive manner, in keeping with … existing economic conditions’.
In April 2018, the UN expert committee that monitors compliance with the covenant called on Bangladesh to withdraw its declarations, and was ‘deeply concerned’ that Rohingya refugees do not have access to education. The UN children rights committee has said that countries facing resource constraints may ‘progressively’ realize the right to education, but also found that ‘states parties have immediate obligations in relation to the right to education’, such as the ‘guarantee’ that the right ‘will be exercised without discrimination of any kind’.
Why Rohingyas are suspects!
Bangladesh’s Awami League government suspects many Rohingyas to be hardline Islamist radicals and feels most Rohingyas are too far Islamized and not inclined to accept the Bengali way of life. They see Rohingyas as potential or actual supporters of hardline Islamist groups like the Jamaat-e-Islami, which supported Pakistan during the 1971 Liberation War and many of whose leaders have been hanged in the last eight years after they were found guilty of war crimes in 1971.
Bangladesh intelligence also suspects that a section of the Rohingya youths are joining the country’s Islamist radical groups like Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) .
A top Awami league leader, on condition of anonymity, told this writer that the Burmese call Rohingyas ‘illegal Bengalis’ but Rohingyas are not Bengalis , rather they are mixed race with strong Arab influence and who practice a much more orthodox form of Islam than Bengali Muslims do in Bangladesh.
“Their huge presence in a sensitive area like the Chittagong-Coxc’s Bazar corridor does not augur well for our security,” the leader said.
The Sheikh Hasina government, having opened the doors for the fleeing Rohingyas on ‘humanitarian grounds’ , is now pushing the international community and powerful neighbours India and China to pressurise Myanmar to take back the Rohingya refugees.