Over 65,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Burma's Rakhine state since soldiers began intensive ‘counter-terrorism’ operations there in October. The level of human rights abuses has rocketed with countless reports of killings, rape, beatings and arson.
Tens of thousands have fled over the border to Bangladesh into the unofficial refugee camps, but the host communities are refugees themselves who have little to offer in terms of food and shelter.
For over 5 years now Children on the Edge have been working with Rohingya refugee children in the makeshift camps of Bangladesh. We provide education to 2,700 children in a safe place, with a child friendly approach and trusted adult presence.
The current surge of refugees into the camp that we work in has transformed a landscape already densely packed with sprawling makeshift shelters. The UN tracked about 22,000 arrivals in just one week, but those working locally estimate the number to be far higher.
John Littleton, our Asia Regional Manager visited the camp last week and has reported that “The level of desperation is palpable. Not only is the physical landscape changing as dozens of bamboo, plastic, mud and stick huts are built each day, but there are lines of women and elderly people sat along the main road begging, in an area that is already resource scarce. I have been coming here over 5 years now and never seen this before”.
Since their government passed the 1982 Citizenship Act, the Rohingya people have been denied access to citizenship and subjected to grave human rights abuses at the hands of the authorities and local population in Burma. For years, to escape this treatment, they have made perilous journeys at sea or fled across the borders, often to countries who, due to their own levels of poverty and overpopulation, do not welcome them.
The Rohingya community we work with have faced ongoing attacks and vandalism at the hands of a resentful local community, but the latest influx of refugees has prompted a different reaction. John describes how “There is a softening in the wider community, and local violence towards the Rohingya is subsiding as it is dawning on people that these are not ‘migrants’, they are refugees fleeing from serious systemised abuse. This is clear from the sheer numbers of people entering the camps, but also the visible level of abuse that these people have suffered. Families are arriving injured and bleeding, some without clothes, many in grief having witnessed the death of loved ones, this is not something you can ignore”.
Whilst in 2012 the persecution and abuse of the Rohingya came from from Buddhist militias that were backed by, but not overtly connected to the Burma government, the current atrocities are being perpetrated by organised soldiers in official uniform.
The schools facilitated by Children on the Edge are already at capacity, but the current focus is working with those children to create an atmosphere of safety and familiarity. Teachers are trained from within the camps, and given specific guidance on supporting children living through trauma.
In the face of everything they have witnessed this year the children are making great progress in their education. In our recent evaluation of the programme 92% of children in the schools exhibited signs of increased confidence and positive self-esteem.
We are continuing to invest in this work and are actively pursuing funds for the schools to ensure their sustainability, deliver high quality education and provide a protective environment for these children. If you would like to find out more about supporting these schools at this crucial time, then please read our project page, consider an online donation, or get in touch.