Young Rohingya Leave Bangladesh Camps for University Dream

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LHOKSEUMAWE, INDONESIA – 

Muhammed Hasson said a painful goodbye to his parents in a refugee camp in Bangladesh before embarking on a dangerous sea journey, refusing to let Myanmar’s crackdown six years ago on Rohingyas like him crush his dream of attending university.

The 18-year-old spent weeks at sea with only the clothes on his back, a few supplies and his hopes of becoming a coder.

Then, last week, he landed on a beach in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh, part of a wave of more than 1,000 Rohingyas who have arrived since November 14 amid improved sailing conditions.

“I came here to get an opportunity to go to university,” Hasson said in a temporary shelter in Indonesia’s Lhokseumawe city, eight hours by bus and ferry from where he initially disembarked.

The Myanmar military’s 2017 campaign drove more than 740,000 Rohingyas into neighboring Bangladesh, bringing reports of murder, arson and rape in a crackdown that has prompted a United Nations genocide investigation.

Dhaka bars formal education inside more than two dozen refugee camps where residents say criminal gangs target the educated, leaving an entire generation at risk of losing years of study vital to their future.

To escape this grim outlook, Hasson borrowed money from his family to pay a middleman for the 1,800-kilometre (1,120 miles) journey to Indonesia, which has more Muslims than any other nation.

“I like physics and mathematics. I want to study computer science engineering. That is my ambition,” he said.

Reporters who visited camps in Cox’s Bazar last week said Rohingya refugees reported a dire lack of education facilities and were fearful of criminal gangs that abduct people for ransom.

“Our children are not able to study here, our suffering has no end here — we feel suffocated, we can’t even sleep due to grief,” refugee Nur Jahan said, speaking after being detained by Bangladeshi police and prevented from boarding a boat bound for Indonesia.

The U.N. says only a few temporary learning centers — teaching English, math, the Burmese language and life skills — have been set up across the sprawling camps that have grown to host more than one million in Bangladesh.

Other problems highlighted by the U.N. included a shortage of qualified teachers for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children and the lack of an official curriculum.

Mohammed Ayas, a friend of Hasson’s who also made the perilous sea crossing, said he could not stay in Bangladesh because of the restrictions and threats he faced there.

“Anyone good in education will be killed. Many people who pursued education have been killed by the criminal groups,” he said.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that lack of access to education, along with movement restrictions and insufficient health services, was contributing to mass Rohingya desperation.

“The result is such high levels of fear and desperation that it seems sensical to risk a dangerous sea journey on a rickety boat to seek a new life,” he said.

Ayas said that, like Hasson, he borrowed money from his relatives to pay 70,000 Bangladeshi taka ($637) for the trip to Indonesia.

The second of 10 siblings said he and his parents cried when he departed for his new life.

“They were worried and sad, but they agreed. Every parent tries to save their children,” he said.

But refugees still face challenges in obtaining an education in Indonesia.

The archipelago nation is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention and says it is not compelled to take in refugees from Myanmar.

Before the latest wave of arrivals, Indonesia hosted only around 1,000 Rohingyas, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Some Indonesian universities have accepted refugees in special cases, but opportunities remain limited without Indonesian residency, an official sponsor or significant funds, experts say.

Fifteen-year-old Abdur Rahman was undeterred, though.

He sought asylum in Indonesia with his mother and two younger brothers after being limited to home study in Bangladesh.

The English-language enthusiast said he hoped leaving the camps would boost his chances of getting an education.

Eventually, he wants to become a journalist, able to write and spread awareness about the plight of his people.

“Rohingya people currently have no country and no shelter,” he said.

“I want to help them.”

Source: Japan Times