Islam Online: Education for Rohingya Refugee

Islam Online: Education for Rohingya Refugee

Save our Generation from Losing their Future

Rohingya refugees are Burmese Muslims, who were epelled because of their religion, and their ethnicity. Today, the children of Rohingya refugees are struggling with their futures to be saved as they are not recognized as refugees by both the Malaysian government to have access to education, and UNHCR as mandated refugees to get resettlement like other refugees. They are marginalized and in languishing in horrorific situation.

The Rohingya’s children are deprived of basic right to education, are victims of exploitation, and are going to be a generation of beggars in Malaysia.
According to statistics issued by UNHCR Malaysia October 2009, about 67,800 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered with the Refugee Agency. Of this figure, 62,000 are refugees from Burma, comprising 28,100 Chin, 16,100 Rohingya, 3,700 Burmese Muslims, 2,900 Kachin and other ethnic minorities. Among those registered refugees, there were 14,600 children below the age of 18. UNHCR Malaysia said that, there were also around 30,000 refugees who remained unregistered yet.

Rohingyas arrived in Malaysia in early 1980s. More than 70% of Rohingya children are of school age. They could enter public schools, but as refugees, they were expelled out from the government school in early 2006, while very few numbers of Rohingya children got chance to study in public school as adopted children of local Malaysian. But still there is no any record a single Rohingya child from refugee community could manage to be a university student ever.
Some managed to go through the categorized as “permanent resident,” which means they must pay higher fees, buy their own books and face a lot of red tape. Most cannot afford the extra costs. Access is also restricted as most of the refugee children do not have birth certificates, a legal prerequisite for admission.

Under the Malaysian Education Act (1966) only three categories of foreigners are permitted to enroll in government schools; the children of foreign embassies, children of foreigners who have legal work permits and those who have been granted permanent resident status. So the children of the Rohingya community in Malaysia do not have the privilege to study in government schools as they do not have birth certificates or any other official documents. Though they get birth certificates, but they do not have the right to attend school.

In the past two decades, Rohingya children born and grown up in Malaysia do not have access to government schools, although primary school education is compulsory and available freely. As a result most of them are working in odd jobs like construction sites, garbage collectors which should be considered as child labor.

In 1998, Yayasan Salam, of UNHCR, came to educate some Rohingya children in Kampung Cheras Baru, but the project wasterminated in 2000. From the year 2001, ABIM stood to fund for that school with a view to giving read and writeable education to some 50 children.

Similarly, the UN refugee agency partnered with a non-governmental organization, the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu-Chi Foundation, opened five new education centers within the Klang Valley in 2008, serving some 300 Rohingya refugee children. The project received funding from the United States government, bringing education to the Rohingya community on an unprecedented scale in Malaysia.

Likewise, from January 2008, UNHCR extended a supportive hand to facilitate primary education to the Rohingya refugee children in Tasik Permai, Tasik Tambahan, Taman Muda, Kampung Pandang and Selayang respectively. As per my study, those schools are also not fully equipped. But those 5 schools are based within klang valley only. Mostly the Rohingya live in Penang and Johor. But their children are still deprived of basic rights to formal education. Thanks to NGO’s, JUMP Network Group, while helping Rohingya children in Penang in 3 schools.

Recently there is another school supported by Muslim Welfare Association of Malaysia (PERKIM), a local NGO chaired by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia since September 2009. That school is situated in Lamba Jaya, Ampang. There are 3 teachers including a religious teacher and 120 students enroll regular classes. All the expenditures of school and students such as rental, accommodation, text books for children, necessary material are conducted by PERKIM.

The sad reality is that two of UNHCR’s five schools closed down as all the students shifted to PERKIM School. In Johor Baru, there are some schools set up through a private initiative of the Rohingya community to educate their own children, but due to lack of funds they are unable to continue and are waiting to get any assistance to develop school curriculums as minimum standard.

According to strategic country plan by UNHCR, the 2010-2011 UNHCR budgets for the protection of children is USD $209, 825 and for the refugee education in Malaysia is listed USD $1, 555, 717. Rohingya community hope on that issue, UNHCR may set up some more schools for Rohingya children in different places like Klang, Johor and Penang if the decision of government remains unchanged.

In addition, Harvest Centre Sdn Bhd, set up an informal school in Sentul. About half of the centre’s students are Rohingya refugee children. Believed to be Malaysia’s first Montessori school for marginalized children, Harvest Centre was set up in 2004 with seed funding from World Vision and is run on public donations. The school, which has qualified and full-time staffs and a host of volunteers, and entered as an implementing partner with UNHCR but there is not more than 200 Rohingya refugee children studying.

After nearly two decades in Malaysia without education for their children, Malaysia’s 16,100 registered Muslim Rohingya refugees from Arakan state of Burma are especially hungry for formal schooling.

Future Global Network Foundation (FGN) a local NGO has been helping the local coordinators of the Rohingya communities in some settlement areas. FGN only supports 500 ringgits for 12 religious teachers in 9 different education sectors since 2007. There is another school namely “Darul Uloom Blossom Garden” Kampung Sungai Pinang, Klang, Two teachers are in charge of religious studies; 1 teacher for teaching English, Maths and science. FGN can only support two religious teachers due to insufficient funds.

It is true to be heard that there are two groups of Rohingya children who took to the streets as beggars in Malaysia. On one side, the children were in the clutches of a triad from some their own ignorant people, and local gangs who paid some money to the parents of the children and the children themselves before sending them out to the streets to beg which is believed to be a part of exploitation. The other group is that who have no choice, but to beg and begging is the easiest form of earning a livelihood on the name selling books.

A notable example of such inconsistencies relates to the government’s statements regarding Rohingyas in Malaysia In 2004, the Government announced that it would consider regularizing the status of existing stateless Rohingyas in Malaysia, to enable them to legally work and live without fear of arrest from the enforcement agencies… The Rohingya were so glad and hoped their children would be able to attend for public school. However, to date, this policy does not appear to have been implemented. Issues also arise with regards to the status of the children of Rohingya refugees who are born in Malaysia. Since their parents are undocumented, such children are more often than not, hindered in obtaining birth certificates and other identification documents which would facilitate their access to basic needs including medical care and education.

To me, the only way to get these people out from the clutches of poverty is through education. We can give them food, for few days or give them money but money is never enough. “We need to empower them, especially the children, teach them how to find out food, not just giving them packets of food, so they can stand on their own two feet and become the master of their own destiny. What if one day we are not here anymore and also the people who are helping them?

This has been republished with the kind permission of the publisher, the original can be found on Muslim new

 Islam Online By Muhammad Saifullah

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