Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on Bangladesh to offer Rohingya refugees formal secondary education, saying school officials in the southeast had expelled scores of Rohingya children because they lacked citizenship papers although they were born inside the country.
Bangladesh has not provided legal pathways for Rohingya children to attend school, with the country maintaining a rule prohibiting refugees from receiving formal education or enrolling in schools outside refugee camps, the New York-based group said in a statement.
The Bangladeshi government's policy of tracking down and expelling Rohingya refugee students instead of ensuring their right to education is misguided, tragic, and unlawful, said Bill Van Esveld, HRW's senior researcher on children's rights. Education is a basic human right.
Rohingya boys and girls who live in camps located in Cox's Bazar district receive an informal primary education through NGOs but, beyond that, they receive no secondary education.
The global rights watchdog said it had interviewed 13 Rohingya refugee students who were expelled from six secondary schools near the refugee settlements in the district on Jan. 23 and 28, as well as Feb. 14, when school administrators went to classrooms and read out a government-issued notice ordering their expulsion.
Abul Kalam, Bangladesh's commissioner for refugee relief and repatriation, said Dhaka had not made a decision on the education of the Rohingya refugees and their children.
If anything comes, we will see later, he told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Md. Saleh Uddin Chowdhury, a secondary education officer in Cox's Bazar, confirmed Tuesday that expulsions had taken place, but he did not provide numbers.
We don't have permission to enroll any Rohingya children in our schools, he told BenarNews.
There had been incidents where refugee children had used falsified documents to enter secondary schools, he acknowledged.
If we get any information regarding those kind of unauthorized admissions, we will cancel them immediately, he said.
HRW said the expelled secondary students were among the 34,000 registered Rohingya refugees living in camps in Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts. However, their legal status was distinct from the 740,000 Rohingya who fled their homes in Myanmar's Rakhine state almost two years ago.
In August 2017, Myanmar launched a brutal crackdown in the wake of attacks on police outposts by Rohingya insurgents.
The expelled students were born in Bangladesh after their parents fled Myanmar as refugees in the early 1990s, the rights group said.
Human Rights Watch said the children had attended non-formal primary schools in refugee camps but had no access to secondary education, which would let them go to a university or even become an accredited high school graduate.
So, Rohingya families paid for Bangladeshi birth certificates or obtained other documents to allow their children to pass as Bangladeshi nationals in order to continue their education, HRW said.
The refugees came from Myanmar, which has long denied citizenship and basic rights to the Rohingya despite their community's longtime roots in Rakhine.
'The education they deserve'
The statements by Chowdhury, the education officer in Cox's Bazar, jibed with previous media reports that Bangladesh schools had quietly admitted Rohingya children.
But HRW quoted a Rohingya community leader as saying that police, intelligence, and other officials had visited four Bangladeshi secondary schools in the Teknaf sub-district on Jan. 15 and 16, and ordered them to expel Rohingya students.
Parents and refugee leaders claimed that school officials could easily find out which students were Rohingya by examining their enrollment records for their parents' names and addresses, HRW said.
According to the watchdog, the solution to children who had been compelled to falsify their identities to go to secondary school should not be expulsion, but to let them get the education they deserve.
About four years ago, several Rohingya children were also expelled from their schools, Abu Sayed, a Rohingya camp leader, told BenarNews.
Some of them are going to schools inside camps now, some gave up their studies, and some parents appointed private tutors to teach their kids, he said.
We will not stay in this country, he said. But as long as we are here, if our children can get the opportunity for an education, they will get it so they can be prepared for their future.
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