DHAKA/SYDNEY 28 February 2019: Half a million Rohingya children are stateless refugees in the Cox’s Bazar area in southern Bangladesh, increasingly anxious about their futures, and vulnerable to frustration and despair.
The massive humanitarian effort led by the Government of Bangladesh with international support has saved countless children’s lives. There is no viable solution in sight for these Rohingya children who live in the world’s largest and most congested refugee settlement. The vast majority were forced to flee for their lives from Myanmar into Bangladesh in August 2017.
In Myanmar, the majority have no legal identity or citizenship. In Bangladesh, children are not being registered at birth, they lack a legal identity, and they lack a refugee status. Until conditions in Myanmar lead to those eligible returning home, Rohingya children remain status-less minority. This excludes these children from learning a formal education curriculum and they are desperately in need of marketable skills.
“The obligation we have as a global society is immense: to give children and young people the world has defined as ‘stateless’, the education and skills they need to build decent lives for themselves,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, following a two-day mission to Cox’s Bazar on 25-26 February with the United Nations Secretary General’s Humanitarian Envoy, Ahmed Al Meraikhi.
The results of a survey completed in December 2018 of 180,000 Rohingya children aged 4-14 now enrolled in “Learning Centers” across the Cox’s Bazar area show the extent of the need for education. More than 90 per cent were shown to have learning competencies at the pre-primary to grades 1-2 level. Just 4 per cent were at grade levels 3-5, and 3 percent at grades 6-8. By the end of 2018, just 3 per cent of Rohingya between 15 and 24 years old were getting any education or vocational skills.
“We must agree now, and collectively, to invest in this generation of Rohingya children, so that they can better navigate their lives today, and be a constructive part of rebuilding Myanmar’s social fabric when they are able to return,” said Dr. Al Meraikhi. “Today, without a legal identity, they are at the mercy of traffickers and drug dealers.”
UNICEF is now reaching 155,000 children ages 4-14 with a learning programme that is progressively including higher quality and more structured learning and skills. The priority for 2019 is to reach older adolescents with foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, and relevant vocational skills. There will also be a much stronger focus on support for the local host community in Cox’s Bazar, one of the poorest districts in Bangladesh.
“This is crucial work, but a drop in the bucket of need. This is an untenable situation,” Fore said. “A generation of Rohingya children and young people cannot be left without the education and skills to build a life for themselves. If they become self-sustaining, their communities will also become self-sustaining and flourish. With the right investment, the Rohingya can be an asset to their community and to the world.”
UNICEF Bangladesh is appealing for $152 million in 2019 to provide 685,000 Rohingya refugees and host community residents with critical support. As of February, we are 29% funded against our appeal.