Education for Rohingya refugee children: Save our generation from losing their future

Source from Mulim News UK @ http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/news/news.php?article=17261
19-12-2009

By Muhammad Saifullah

Today, the children of Rohingya refugees are struggling with their future to be saved as they are not recognized as refugees by the both Malaysian government to have access to education and UNHCR as mandated refugees to get resettlement like other refugees. They are marginalized and are languishing in horror situation. Their children are deprived of basic right to education, victims of exploitation and going to be a generation of beggars in Malaysia.

As per we know, two things can destroy a nation, illiteracy and poverty. Unfortunately, if we see the ethnic Rohingya, an estimated literacy rate of the Rohingya children both in home and exile are less than 0.5%. Literacy rate in Malaysia is “0”%.

It is very pitiful situation for the Rohingya community and true that Rohingya nation has lost their future. So, the education is most important to develop to any nation and to know what is the right and wrong things to get the basic rights in the future.

According to statistics issued by UNHCR Malaysia as of last October 2009, about 67,800 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered with the Refugee Agency. Of this figure, 62,000 are refugees from Burma, comprising 28,100 Chin, 16,100 Rohingya, 3,700 Burmese Muslims, 2,900 Kachin and other ethnic minorities.

Based on the available statistics, 51 per cent of the refugees and asylum-seekers were men while women made up 49 per cent. There were 14,600 children below the age of 18.

UNHCR Malaysia said there were also a large number of persons of concern to the agency who remained unregistered and the figure was said to be around 30,000. Believe there is also being a large number of children who are not yet granted refugee status.

The children of the Rohingya community in Malaysia do not have the privilege to study in government schools as they do not have birth certificates or any other official documents. Under the Malaysian Education Act (1966) only three categories of foreigners are permitted to enroll in government schools i.e the children of foreign embassies, children of foreigners who have legal work permits and those who have been granted permanent resident status.

Rohingyas arrived in Malaysia in early 1980s. More than 70% of Rohingya children are of school age. They could enter public schools, but as refugees, they were expelled out from the government school in early 2006, while very few numbers of Rohingya children got chance to study in public school as adopted children of local Malaysian. But still there is no any record a single Rohingya child from refugee community could manage to be a university student ever. Some managed to go through the categorized as “permanent resident,” which means they must pay higher fees, buy their own books and face a lot of red tape. Most cannot afford the extra costs. Access is also restricted as most of the refugee children do not have birth certificates, a legal prerequisite for admission.

The children of Rohingya in Malaysia are not recognized and are at greater risk of statelessness than their parents. Though they get birth certificates but they do not get any right to attend school. In past two decades, our unfortunate Burmese ethnic Rohingya children who have been born and grown up in Malaysia do not have access to government schools although primary school education is compulsory and available free to all in this country. And hence, the stateless children have not been able to develop their knowledge, skills, personality, talents etc.

Approximately there are more than 5,400 Rohingya refugee children in Malaysia are of school age. According to UNHCR report, they have not received basic education due to financial and bureaucratic obstacles. But I believe the main feature is that Rohingya children cannot enroll in public schools because Malaysian law does not recognize their refugee status.

That resulted most of them are working in odd jobs like construction sites, garbage collectors which should be considered as child labor.

Education is backbone of the Nation; Today’s children are tomorrow’s future. Peculiarly, Rohingya children in Malaysia don’t have access to get education. Rohingyas existence as a nation or ethnic group of Burma is depends on their children. Without education they are blind and unable to fight for their future due to lack of knowledge. We can for see what will happen to the Rohingya refugees and their children living in Malaysia if nothing is done to help them?

However, in 1998, Yayasan Salam came up to help to educate some Rohingya children in Kampung Cheras Baru as an implementing partner of UNHCR and that project was terminated in 2000.

From the year 2001, ABIM stood to fund for that school with a view to giving read and writeable education to some 50 children.

Similarly, the UN refugee agency partnered with a non-governmental organization, the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu-Chi Foundation, opened five new education centers within the Klang Valley in 2008, serving some 300 Rohingya refugee children. The project received funding from the United States government, bringing education to the Rohingya community on an unprecedented scale in Malaysia.

Likewise, from January 2008, UNHCR extended a supportive hand to facilitate primary education to the Rohingya refugee children in Tasik Permai, Tasik Tambahan, Taman Muda, Kampung Pandang and Selayang respectively. As per my study, those schools are also not fully equipped.

But those 5 schools are based within klang valley only. Mostly the Rohingya live in Penang and Johor. But their children are still deprived of basic right to formal education. Thanks to a humanitarian NGO, JUMP Network Group, while helping Rohingya children in penang in 3 schools.

Recently there is another school supported by Muslim Welfare Association of Malaysia (PERKIM), a local NGO chaired by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia since September 2009. That school is situated in Lamba Jaya, Ampang. There are 3 teachers including a religious teacher and 120 students enroll regular classes. All the expenditures of school and students such as rental, accommodation, text books for children, necessary material are conducted by PERKIM. The sad reality is that two of UNHCR’s five schools closed down as all the students shifted to PERKIM School.

In Johor Baru, there are some schools set up by privet initiative of Rohingya community to educate their own children but due to lack of fund unable to go further and waiting to get any assistance from UNHCR or any GNO to develop school curriculums as minimum standard.

According to strategic country plan by UNHCR, the 2010-2011 UNHCR budgets for the protection of children is USD $209, 825 and for the refugee education in Malaysia is listed USD $1, 555, 717. Rohingya community hope on that issue, UNHCR may set up some more schools for Rohingya children in different places like Klang, Johor and Penang if the decision of government remains unchanged.

In addition, Harvest Centre Sdn Bhd, set up an informal school in Sentul. About half of the centre’s students are Rohingya refugee children. Believed to be Malaysia’s first Montessori school for marginalized children, Harvest Centre was set up in 2004 with seed funding from World Vision and is run on public donations. The school, which has qualified and full-time staffs and a host of volunteers, and entered as an implementing partner with UNHCR but there is not more than 200 Rohingya refugee children studying.

After nearly two decades in Malaysia without education for their children, Malaysia’s 16,100 registered Muslim Rohingya refugees from Arakan state of Burma are especially hungry for formal schooling.

Future Global Network Foundation (FGN) a local NGO has been helping the local coordinators of the Rohingya communities in some settlement areas. FGN only supports 500 ringgits for 12 religious teachers in 9 different education sectors since 2007.

There is another school namely “Darul Uloom Blossom Garden” Kampung Sungai Pinang, Klang, Two teachers are in charge of religious studies; 1 teacher for teaching English, Maths and science. FGN can only support for two religious teachers due to insufficient funds. There is no teacher available for the teaching of Bahasa Malaysia at the moment.

The complaints of Rohingya children have been spread out that most of them are involved in beggar’s path. Why they are begging and what is the main reason behind it? In my study, the key spur is education. So I hope and strongly believe that only education would take the refugee children off the streets and prevent them from becoming a generation of beggars apart from being dragged into being part of the ‘bad hats’.

It is true to be heard that there are two groups of Rohingya children who took to the streets as beggars in Malaysia.

On one side, the children were in the clutches of a triad from some their own ignorant people and local gangs who paid some money to the parents of the children and the children themselves before sending them out to the streets to beg which is believed to be a part of exploitation.

“The other group is that who have no choice but to beg and begging is the easiest form of earning a livelihood on the name selling books”.

A notable example of such inconsistencies relates to the government’s statements regarding Rohingyas in Malaysia In 2004, the Government announced that it would consider regularizing the status of existing stateless Rohingyas in Malaysia, to enable them to legally work and live without fear of arrest from the enforcement agencies… The Rohingya were so glad and hoped their children would be able to attend for public school. However, to date, this policy does not appear to have been implemented.

Issues also arise with regards to the status of the children of Rohingya refugees who are born in Malaysia. Since their parents are undocumented, such children are more often than not, hindered in obtaining birth certificates and other identification documents which would facilitate their access to basic needs including medical care and education.

“To me, the only way to get these people out from the clutches of poverty is through education. We can give them food, for few days or give them money but money is never enough. “We need to empower them, especially the children, teach them how to find out food, not just giving them packets of food, so they can stand on their own two feet and become the master of their own destiny. What if one day we are not here anymore and also the people who are helping them?

“I have been teaching refugee children for 3 years, now in Klang. That school was set up in 2006 by some Rohingyas and still all the expenses are born by the community. The children are great, very responsive and excited to learn but being refugees they are unable to enjoy their full rights to education with full equipments like public schools.

It is satisfying to see the glow on their innocent faces as they respond to my teaching. They also love drawings, playing football and netball.

“They are practically living with no hope, no dreams and no tomorrow, nothing. I am helping them straight from my heart. My goal is, let’s say out of 63 students, if I can get one into university or can get a doctor or engineer; this is already a huge reward for me in my life. May be it will take some time but I am willing to do this forever.

Thus, there is still room for optimism notwithstanding the current plight of refugees in

Malaysia. As long as the authorities accept deficiencies in the current status quo and are willing to engage in dialogue to redress the situation, there is still room for hope. For everyone’s part, we can continue to work to increase awareness of children’s rights, and to encourage the government to adopt comprehensive and long-term refugee children protection policies, beginning with accession to the Child Convention and amendment to relevant immigration laws and other policies affecting refugees in Malaysia. For the time-being, we can also continue to encourage the government to adopt interim measures to alleviate at least some of the problems faced by refugee children, for instance, by encouraging the government to grant registered refugees with the right to seek and obtain employment lawfully, and to have access to basic needs such as shelter, food, healthcare and particularly education.

Malaysia has ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and is thus obligated to protect all children, including migrant, asylum-seekers and refugee children. In the 2007 Concluding Observations of the Committee of the Rights of the Child, the Committee has expressed concerns over various aspects of migrant, asylum-seekers and refugee children including detention.

The Committee specifically recommends the Malaysian Government to stop detention of children in relation to Immigration proceedings and to develop a legislative framework for the protection of asylum-seekers and refugee children.

We would like to request to the Malaysian Government to fulfill its obligation to protect the rights of children, regardless of the child’s citizenship. In addition, the Government is obligated to provide protection to asylum seekers and refugee children as according to Article 22 of the CRC.

We believe the Government will ensure that the refugee children are secured and not subjected to any violence or negligent treatment during arrest and detention and provide basic assistance through formal education.

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