The Rohingya ethnic minority from Myanmar is one of the largest stateless groups in the world. Since the 1940s, ongoing persecution, violent military campaigns and gross human rights abuses have caused the exile of over one million Rohingya people.
Over the years, many have fled across the border to Bangladesh. Until mid 2017, according to government estimates, Bangladesh was already hosting around 500,000 displaced Rohingya. With the UN camps at capacity, makeshift camps emerged, but conditions were poor and children had no opportunity for education. Children on the Edge has been working in Kutupalong makeshift camp since 2011, providing low profile schools for 2,700 children.
Current refugee crisis
The long persecuted Rohingya have had relatively little attention from the international community, but in August 2017, co-ordinated military attacks in Myanmar turned the media spotlight onto their plight.
This was the most brutal wave of violence against the Rohingya to date. Described by the UN as ‘a textbook example of ethnic cleansing’, the offensive forced an extra 700,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh, directly into the areas where we work.
In full consultation with local refugee communities, Children on the Edge joined the international effort in providing humanitarian support for immediate needs in the wake of the crisis. Our main concern over the next few years though, is that these children have consistent support, long after the current surge of attention subsides.
Children make up 50% of the Rohingya refugee community, and an estimated 625,000 children lack access to learning opportunities. New arrivals are living in highly congested areas (around 8m sq/person) and are susceptible to disease and malnutrition.
In addition to the daily stressors of displacement, children have suffered profound trauma and, with little access to safe, child friendly facilities, they face serious protection risks including abuse, child marriage, trafficking and child labour.
Without adequate support, children here face the prospect of growing up without an education and without the means to process the horrific events they have lived through.
What we are doing to help
After a broad survey of the new refugee arrival areas, covering territory with more than 30,000 new households, zones with the lowest prevalence of health and education services available were identified and contact with local leadership was established.
As a result, together with our partner Mukti, Children on the Edge is focussing efforts into these blocks in the refugee camps.
Our original 45 schools in the Kutupalong area have been handed over to UNICEF, and we have constructed 75 Learning Centres in the camps. We will also be maintaining the 28 classrooms we operate in host and enclave migrant communities.
The Centres are semi-permanent structures, to enable durability against the rains (deep concrete floors), whilst maintaining flexibility on location, should the refugee population move on elsewhere.
The programme employs and trains both Bangladeshi and Rohingya teachers. Learning Centres offer basic education, healthcare, nutritional support, and creative opportunities to 7,500 vulnerable Rohingya refugee children who otherwise will have no access to those services. The Centres also serve as a hub for community learning in areas like First Aid and the use of gas stoves.
Children benefit from the daily opportunity to play, express themselves and simply enjoy being children. Each classroom will be a bright, colourful haven, and we are growing vibrant ‘green spaces’ outside each one.
Based on our prior experience and lessons learned, we are confident that we are uniquely positioned and qualified to deliver an effective programme to meet the needs of thousands of children.
Fortify Rights - 'They tried to kill us all' - Atrocity Crimes against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, Myanmar
UNHCR report - 'Mixed Movements in South-East Asia'
Fortify Rights - The Persecution of Rohingya Muslims
Human Rights Watch - World Report 2017 - 'Abuses against the Rohingya'
Amnesty International report - 'We are at breaking point'
Our work was selected for The Times Christmas Appeal 2017. Visit our 'Times Appeal' page to read their collection of articles about the plight of the Rohingya living in the camps on the border, and what we are doing to help.