After gaining experience in providing education for Rohingya children in mixed-population slum areas and fully-Rohingya refugee communities, we will be expanding our work to include a new and growing group of vulnerable Rohingya children, living in ‘enclave communities’ further inland from the border.
These settlements are slum areas, located a safe distance from the border area, where migrants seek refuge and new work opportunities. These communities are outside the closely-monitored ‘containment zone’ setup along the border by the government to hold new refugees. Consequently residents report less harassment from the police, army, and local officials.
While wages for Rohingya labourers remain exploitative and below national standards, migrants report how their wages are still better than what is available along the border and they are free to move around these communities with far less fear of check-points and extortion.
Rohiakar, a Rohingya mother we spoke to from the enclave said, “A few years agowe were living in a border town in Rakhine State in Burma. The military took our house as a station so that they could watch who was coming in and out of the border, they would just sit there and drink. We left our home and crossed to Bangladesh and went to our cousins, but then the government destroyed the village. We tried other places but the Bangladesh people hated us and made our lives miserable, so we ended up at the enclave. There is no hate for us here so we can make a bit of a life”.
Our original baseline survey found that Rohingya children in these communities do not have access to formal education at all, and only a third of children from Bangla families are enrolled in school, due to cost and distance barriers. 96% of school-aged, Rohingya children surveyed, lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, without which they will struggle to find any employment other than menial, daily labor. Nine out of ten enclave community parents surveyed indicated that a desire for education was their primary concern for their children.
The survey also revealed that crowded conditions and a lack of resources in these communities result in significant health issues for the children. Surveyed children in the targeted areas found that nearly two-thirds (62%) report they ‘often’ do not have enough to eat and experience prolonged hunger. Furthermore, 93% of parents stated that their children frequently faced health issues such as skin infections, high fevers, diarrhoea, and chronic coughing.
There are no government health or education services available in the Dohazari slum area. Instead the majority of enclave community residents rely on private medical clinics in nearby areas for health care. While these clinics have no qualms providing services to undocumented migrants, their costs are prohibitive to enclave community residents.
On average, one visit to a private clinic will cost more than a typical Rohingya labourer can make in 5 days. A survey of the migrant community revealed that migrants have little choice when faced with a health emergency, as government health services are generally viewed as inadequate or inaccessible. As a result, predatory lending to cover health care costs has become a serious concern. A single illness can lead to a debilitating spiral of debt for an entire family, in the face of high repayment costs.
What we will be doing to help
In the Dohazari enclave community, located about two hours from the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, we will develop the provision of education and protection for children.
After an initial pilot project for 240 children, we will be establishingtwelve classrooms for 600 children, within two communities either side of the river. Like our other schools, these will employ a government-approved curriculum, providing instruction in literacy, numeracy, and science, coupled with standardised exams.
The vast majority of the children here have never received any type of education before. Priority will be given to children from single-income homes, those with disabilities, and those from the most resource-poor households.
Within its classrooms, the programme will address some of the health needs described above. First Aid equipment and training will be provided to all teachers, and students with more serious problems are referred to local health professionals, with the programme covering costs as best it can.
Additionally, students will receive both Vitamin A and iron supplements along with deworming medication. These are low-cost provisions, which yield high-impact benefits for the children whose diets often lack the key nutrients.
We aim to increase our support to these enclave communities in the anticipation of thousands more Rohingya refugees migrating inland from the border camps. Our partner organisation has been conducting a full needs assessment and focus groups. Already the population has swelled since the crisis escalated in August 2017.