Shut out from Bangladesh schools, Rohingyas turn to madrassas
Half a million refugee Rohingya children are shut out of local schools in Bangladesh, leaving many in religious madrassas where critics say educational standards are low and students are vulnerable to indoctrination.
Around 740,000 Muslim Rohingya fled into the country during a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar's military, swelling the numbers of the minority in Bangladesh to around a million.
But while their language and culture are similar to people in southeastern Bangladesh, authorities regard the Rohingya as temporary guests and their children are denied access to local schools, raising fears of a "lost generation".
Many Rohingya children had managed to slip through the net until earlier this year when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government cracked down, ordering schools to expel them. Lucky Akter, 15, lost her spot at Hnila village school, where almost a third of her class were from refugee camps. She now has nothing to do but help her mother with chores.
"I wanted to be a doctor, but I don't think it will be possible," she told journalists, breaking down in tears.
Rights groups have criticised the government's policy, and charities and the UN children's agency UNICEF have set up some 1,800 makeshift facilities in the camps, schooling around 180,000 children – but only to primary level.
Rohingya in Bangladesh: anniversary of the exodus
A year ago, the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar began. Hundreds of thousands fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. Andrea Marshall gives her impressions of the refugee camp Kutupalong in Bangladesh.
Dusty, hot, narrow – and almost as big as Cologne: Rohingya began fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh decades ago. A refugee camp grew up next to the village of Kutupalong. As a result of the mass exodus since August 2017, the number of inhabitants there has risen sharply and further camps have been set up. A total of almost one million people now live there – a city almost the size of Cologne, but without the infrastructure
Football fever in the refugee camp: international flags fly at the entrance to the Kutupalong refugee camp. During the World Cup, the Brazilian, Argentinian and occasionally even the German flag were to be seen. Football fever gripped the camp and the surrounding villages, prompting coverage by citizen reporters. Even in a difficult situation there is joie de vivre
Monsoon floods and landslides: threatened by cyclones in the spring and torrential rains during the monsoon season, life here is mostly about coping with extreme hardship. The programme "Palonger Hotha" by citizen reporters serves partly to disseminate vital information: where can I find bamboo poles to reinforce the accommodation? Which residential areas should be evacuated because of the threat of mudslides?
The aim of the mission is also to strengthen people's identity by taking their everyday experiences seriously. The team of reporters, consisting of young Rohingya and local Bangladeshi people, asked: What is the impact on family life when you have to sit huddled together in a narrow hut for hours on end due to the weather?
Collecting constructive ideas: an important concern of the citizen reporters is to find constructive ideas and inspire the listeners. Reporter Sajeda reported on "hanging vegetable gardens" where beans are planted – a way to improve the food supply despite the limited space. There are also reports featuring household remedies for diseases that accumulate in the rainy season for hygienic reasons
Education instead of "lost generation": how do children remember their way home? What can they do to ensure they donʹt get lost in the huge refugee camp? What are the challenges of the Learning Centres in the camp? For reporter Iqbal, the education of the refugee children is a special concern. There are no real schools for them
Elephant alarm new for Rohingya: the refugee camp is on the route of the Asian elephants. At the beginning of the year there were several deaths after people in the camp tried to chase the animals away. The United Nations organised training courses on the correct handling of elephants, while "Palonger Hotha" reporters covered the initiative
Green hills deforested: some Bangladeshi people from the area have found work in connection with the refugee camp. But they also complain that hundreds of thousands of newly arrived Rohingya have raised food prices in the region. Hills have been deforested because the refugees needed space and firewood. That is why it is important to include the perspective of the locals on citizensʹ radio
Conflict-sensitive approach: the "Palonger Hotha" team with their local trainer Mainul Khan aims to deal responsibly with potentially sensitive issues. Politics is not the subject of the programme. On the other hand, the UNHCR's "Smart Card", which is supposed to facilitate the (voluntary) return of refugees to Myanmar and has been met with suspicion by many, is well reported
Overcoming the trauma: on the anniversary of the beginning of the mass exodus on 25 August, traumatic experiences were shared. People also told us how they cope with their trauma – one step at a time
To fill the gap, Rohingya groups and Bangladeshi Islamists have set up more than 1,000 madrassas – religious schools that provide everything from basic Koran-based education to graduate-level religious studies.
"We don't differentiate people by their nationality as long as they have a strong urge to be educated and serve Allah's path," said the head teacher of one local madrassa, which has taken in at least 15 Rohingya students.
Thirteen-year-old Hares, who was expelled from a school in the Bangladesh town of Teknaf, now goes to a madrassa in the Leda refugee camp.
"It's better for him to get busy with studying, otherwise he will loiter around in the camp and get spoilt," his father, Mohammad Khaleque, told journalists.
But critics warn that the madrassas are not a good educational alternative.
The International Crisis Group said in a recent report that there was no evidence madrassas are promoting violence, intolerance or indoctrination by extremists.
"However, a policy of denying young people formal education and leaving them reliant on unregulated madrassas almost certainly increases the risks of such groups gaining a foothold in the camps," it added.
Mubashar Hasan, an expert in extremism at the University of Oslo in Norway, said the government should ensure "thorough monitoring". Rohingya children "are psychologically vulnerable, isolated and angry. Simultaneously they are culturally very religious", Hasan told journalists.
Some of the madrassas are run by the hardline Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam, which has a history of violent protests in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, including demonstrations urging the implementation of a blasphemy law and gender segregation in workplaces.
In 2013, tens of thousands of Hefazat activists descended on Dhaka triggering violence that killed 50 people and injured hundreds. More recently, the group has made peace with the government and the degrees provided by its schools are recognised officially.
Senior Hefazat leader Azizul Haque denied the group had any link with extremism and said its institutions offered religious education in line with the curriculum at many Bangladeshi madrassas.
"There is no reason for suspicion," he said.
And Fazlul Karim, a spokesman for the group, told journalists the schools were the "last resort" for the Rohingya.
"They were driven away from their home because of their religion. True religious education can only bring salvation to this community," said Karim, who administers seven madrassas with some 2,500 pupils.
But Mojib Ullah, who studied in a Bangladeshi madrassa before switching to secular schools, said the religious institutions were not offering a proper education.
"These madrassas can only help create some religious teachers and mosque imams," said Ullah, who now leads prayers in an Australian mosque. "We need to send our kids to a school system which can help prepare them to face the challenges of globalisation," he told journalists.
"Otherwise, this generation will be lost forever." (AFP)