Rohingyas sing Myanmar anthem 5 years after exodus » Capital News
Kutupalong (Bangladesh) (AFP), August 23 – Every morning, in the school of his refugee camp, Mohammad Yusuf sings the national anthem of Myanmar, the country whose army forced his family to flee and is accused of having killed thousands of people.
Yusuf, now 15, is among hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh after Myanmar’s army launched a brutal offensive on Thursday five years ago.
For nearly half a decade, he and the large number of other refugee children in the network of squalid camps have received little or no schooling, with Dhaka fearing that education represents an acceptance that the Rohingya do not wouldn’t be going home anytime soon.
That hope seems more distant than ever since the military coup in Myanmar last year, and last month authorities finally allowed UNICEF to expand its school program to cover 130,000 children, and eventually all those in fields.
But the host country still wants the refugees to return home: lessons are taught in Burmese and schools follow the Burmese curriculum, also singing the country’s national anthem before classes start each day.
The Rohingya have long been seen as reviled foreigners by some in Myanmar, a largely Buddhist country whose government is accused in the UN’s highest court of trying to wipe out the people, but Yusuf embraces the song , seeing her as a symbol of defiance and a future comeback.
“Myanmar is my homeland,” he told AFP. “The country did us no harm. His mighty people did. My younger sister died there. Our people have been slaughtered.
“It’s still my country and I will love it until the end,” Yusuf said.
– ‘Time bombs’ –
The years of denial of education is a powerful symbol of Bangladesh’s ambivalence towards the presence of refugees, some of whom have been relocated to a remote, flood-prone and previously uninhabited island.
“This program reminds them that they belong in Myanmar where they will return one day,” deputy refugee commissioner Shamsud Douza told AFP.
But when that might happen remains uncertain, and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said this month that conditions were “not conducive to returns”.
Repatriation can only take place “when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar”, she added.
She rejected the suggestion that the Rohingya camps could become a “new Gaza”, but Dhaka is now increasingly aware of the risks that a large population of destitute and long-term refugees could pose.
About 50% of the nearly one million people in the camps are under 18.
The government “thought that educating the Rohingya would send a signal to Myanmar that (Bangladesh) would eventually absorb the Muslim minority,” said Mahfuzur Rahman, a former Bangladeshi general who served during the exodus.
Now Dhaka has “realized” it needs a longer-term plan, he said, not least because of the risk of having a generation of uneducated young men in the camps.
Already, security in the camps is a major issue due to the presence of criminal gangs smuggling amphetamines across the border. In the past five years there have been over 100 murders.
Armed insurgent groups also operate. They have gunned down dozens of community leaders and are still on the hunt for bored young men.
Young people with no prospects – they are not allowed to leave the camps – also provide a rich harvest for human traffickers who promise a boat ride leading to a better life elsewhere.
All children “could be ticking time bombs”, Rahman told AFP. “Growing up in a camp with no education, no hopes and no dreams; what monsters they can turn into, we don’t know.
– Dreams of flying –
Fears remain over whether Bangladesh might change its mind and end the schooling project, as it did with a private school scheme to teach more than 30,000 children in the camps earlier this year .
Some activists condemn the education program for its insistence on following Myanmar’s curriculum, rather than Bangladesh’s.
With little prospect of return, Myanmar’s program was of little use, said Mojib Ullah, a Rohingya diaspora leader currently in Australia.
“If we don’t go home, why do we have to study in Burmese? It will be a pure waste of time, a kind of collective suicide. Already we have lost five years. We need international programs in English,” he said.
Young Yusuf’s ambitions also have an international dimension, and in his tarpaulin-roofed classroom he read a book about the Wright Brothers.
He wants to become an aeronautical engineer or a pilot, and one day fly to Yangon, the commercial hub of Myanmar.
“One day I will fly around the world, it’s my only dream.”