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Bleak future for Rohingya children in Rakhine camps

There was a time when they could attend school and university easily, says former lawyer

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Bleak future for Rohingya children in Rakhine camps

Rohingya children at a temporary learning center at Kaung Doke Khar internally displaced people (IDP) camp near Sittwe on Sept. 12, 2017. (ucanews.com photo)

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Rohingya activist Kyaw Hla Aung fears for the future of younger generations of Rohingya growing up in camps in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Daily the former lawyer sees the challenges that children and their families face in Thetkaepyin camp for internally displaced people (IDP) near Sittwe, the state’s capital.

“The future for new generations is sadly bleak and hopeless,” said Aung who worked at the local courts for more than 20 years.

Aung, 79, also lives in the camp.

He said that some 4,000 Rohingya children attend an overcrowded state-run high school in Thetkaepyin village. It also lacks teachers. Then there are the costs involved.

“Most of the parents can’t afford school expenses and many of the children drop out,” said Aung.

Unlike a decade ago, students who finished matriculation exams are now unable to attend the university in Sittwe. Aung said that there was a time when Rohingya children could go to school and university easily.

“But it’s the past and not in today’s Myanmar,” he said.

The roads along the camps and the school are in poor condition and it takes the children at least an hour to travel from the camp to the school.

Not only are Rohingya children denied a proper education they face a future as non-citizens in the country of their birth, he said. They will be denied the right to vote and their movement is restricted.

Discrimination against the Muslim minority has increased since sectarian violence erupted in 2012, Aung said.

“We didn’t need to apply for permission from local immigration officers to travel from Rakhine to other cities before 2012,” Aung said. “Now we feel we’re treated as second-class citizens in our native Myanmar.”

Myanmar denies citizenship and the associated rights to the Rohingya based on its 1982 Citizenship Law, which states only ethnic nationalities and others whose families entered the country before 1823 are entitled to these.

The Myanmar government regards the Rohingya as Bengalis. By not recognizing the term 'Rohingya', the government has implied that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh despite there being a Rohingya presence in Myanmar for centuries.

A Rohingya girl at a NGOs-provided temporary learning center in Kaung Doke Khar IDP camp near Sittwe, the capital city of Rakhine on Sept. 12, 2017. (ucanews.com photo)

‘Apartheid-like conditions’

More than 120,000 Rohingya remain in IDP camps in Rakhine State in what critics have described as apartheid-like conditions. They cannot move freely and have no access to health care, education or employment. Camp inmates mainly rely on aid from the United Nations and non-government groups for daily survival.

Aung said that conditions in the Rakhine camps have worsened since they were first established in 2012.

He said it was usual that at least ten people — adults and children — live together in a small room. There are limited healthcare facilities and lack of employment opportunities, he added.

“These people have lived in these camps for more than seven years and still there is no prospect for any of us returning to our original homes. The government has planned resettlement to different areas,” he said.

“People want to return to their original homes.”

The closing of all IDP camps in Rakhine was a key recommendation made by the late Kofi Annan-led commission which was established by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016. The commission sought to address root causes of sectarian conflict in the religiously and ethnically divided state.

The commission recommended that the government take concrete steps to end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

Aurora Prize for Humanism winner Kyaw Hla Aung (third from left) with a delegation in Armenia in June, 2019. (Photo supplied)

12 years in prison 

As an activist, Aung has raised the citizenship issue to the government and requested for the Rohingya to be given items such as travel permits.

Earlier this year, he raised many of these concerns with visiting officials from the World Bank.

Aung has been jailed repeatedly for his activist work in Myanmar. He was first locked up in 1986 and the last time he was in jail was 2014. In total he spent 12 years in prison for his activist work.

Aung has also helped draw international attention to the plight of the 700,000 Rohingya who fled Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh in the wake of a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military in August 2017.

Last year he was awarded the 2018 Aurora Prize for Humanism for his dedication to fighting for equality, education and human rights for the Rohingya people.

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