Since 2017, over a million Rohingya refugees were forced to leave their homes due to the ongoing genocide in Myanmar. Unprecedented levels of forced displacement have caused global migration and a refugee crisis in several countries, but world leaders have failed to come up with any long-term solutions. Most Rohingya refugees have found themselves in limbo for years, their rights are denied in their host countries, and they are unable to become self-sufficient or more importantly, rebuild their lives.
A school is a safe place where children learn, play and grow - basic necessities for any child growing up, but this is especially important for those that are thousands of miles away from their homes and have seen the horrors of war.
In 1996, I was in a refugee camp in Bangladesh after having escaped the horrors of the killings in Myanmar. I started studying in community school and madrasa in Dhumdomia, Teknaf. I was very happy on my first day at school with a broken chalk and slate. The school had no roof but nevertheless, it still felt like I was learning something. In the refugee camps, life was difficult and tough. Everyone taught me something and education was about survival. Fortunately, I was able to learn English through a private academy while I was there.
WFP and UNHCR supplied biscuits for us, and most of us actually came to school to receive a pack of 6 or 12 biscuits a day. It was not comparable to a plate of rice, but believe me, it was a real blessing in comparison to nothing at all. With the terrible life conditions, most Rohingyas did not receive a proper education in the refugee camps in Bangladesh as survival and well being were the priorities.
I smiled when I saw this picture that went viral a few weeks ago. Every day I came to the Learning Centers/Schools, WFP biscuits were available. Unfortunately, there were no textbooks nor an education system from the Bangladesh government.
According to the UN, education is the key that will allow many other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved. When people are able to get quality education, they can break away from the cycle of poverty. Education, therefore, helps to reduce inequalities. It also empowers people everywhere to live more fulfilling and sustainable lives without relying on handouts and aid. Education will improve the child’s confidence. It provides the child with essential and necessary life skills. Education will enable the child to contribute to the country’s economy when he or she becomes an adult.
It will also make the child less likely to be cheated by other people. Once the child reaches adulthood, there will be some form of respect for him or her from society.
If countries don’t allow a refugee child to get an education, indirectly they’re making the whole community a burden to the government. If they let refugee children study then they can get better jobs and won’t have to depend on government money to do anything. Refugees also won’t have to depend on UNHCR or other NGOs for financial assistance.
However, years have gone by and yet there is no progress for the education of refugees. Yet education is perhaps the only way that refugees can improve their lives and then contribute back to the countries that host them. If you are reading this, I would like to make a plea to you to raise your voice to provide quality education for refugees everywhere, complete with a curriculum system where at the end of it, students will receive a qualification.
I cannot accept that my fellow refugee brothers and sisters will go through what I did. All we ask for is safety, freedom and education so that we can contribute to our host country and this world. Please spend those millions to provide proper education for refugees. Years have gone by and all the funding has not made our situation any better. Our lives are being ruined. So stop wasting our lives. Stop wasting the lives of successive generations!
Someone wrote: "Refugees need practical and fast paths to integrate into new societies. This begins with quality education." But education is also a human right. The only way to get us out of the clutches of poverty is through education. Education is the key for refugees to build their futures enabling us to become journalists, doctors, lawyers, pilots, engineers, human rights advocates, diplomats and politicians. This will then change the future of our families, communities and our country and then the world.
We Rohingya, will never forget those who have given us the opportunities to reach our potential.
Ziaur Rahman is a Rohingya activist based in Malaysia.