Close to 400,000 Rohingya refugee children living in Bangladeshi camps are being deprived of the right to education, according to a new investigation by Human Rights Watch.
In an 81-page report released on Tuesday, the group has accused Bangladesh’s government of blocking children’s access to formal education in private or public schools outside the sprawling camps, and even stopping aid groups from providing a meaningful alternative to secondary education on site.
Long term refugees and children who were among 740,000 people who fled the deadly ethnic cleansing campaign by the Myanmar military in Rakhine State in 2017 have now been caught in a push by Myanmar and Bangladesh to repatriate the Rohingya as quickly as possible.
The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and other rights groups have repeatedly stated that conditions in Myanmar are currently not conducive for safe, voluntary, and dignified returns and the Rohingya themselves have been too fearful to join two recent repatriation exercises.
“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,” said Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch.
“The government of Bangladesh saved countless lives by opening its borders and providing refuge to the Rohingya, but it needs to end its misguided policy of blocking education for Rohingya children.”
Human Rights Watch has warned that denying formal education to the refugees living in already appalling conditions in the camps of Cox’s Bazaar will devastate an entire generation, increasing the likelihood of child labour or marriage and the appeal of criminal or armed groups.
Across the border in Myanmar, civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi is preparing to travel to the International Court of Justice in the Hague next week to fight charges of genocide against her country in its treatment of Rohingya Muslims.
The public have rallied to support the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is said to be ignoring warnings from international diplomats against making a personal appearance in the high-profile case.
Hundreds have taken to the streets to shower praise on the embattled leader, while many others have backed her on their Facebook pages, and travel agencies are reportedly arranging VIP trips to the Netherlands for her supporters.
Buddhist majority Myanmar denies genocide, claiming the army was fighting militants who attacked security posts.
However, Gambia, with the backing of the 57-nation Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, lodged a lawsuit last month against the Southeast Asian nation for genocide, including mass murder and rape.