Every morning in his refugee camp school, Mohammad Yusuf sings the national anthem of Myanmar, the country whose army forced his family to flee and is accused of killing thousands of his people.
Yusuf, now 15, is one of hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim ethnic Rohingya who escaped into Bangladesh after the Myanmar military launched a brutal offensive five years ago on Thursday. For nearly half a decade, he and the vast numbers of other refugee children in the network of squalid camps received little or no schooling, with Dhaka fearing that education would represent an acceptance that the Rohingya were not going home any time soon.
That hope seems more distant than ever since the military coup in Myanmar last year, and last month authorities finally allowed UNICEF to scale up its schools program to cover 130,000 children, and eventually all of those in the camps.
But the host country still wants the refugees to go back: tuition is in Burmese and the schools follow the Myanmar 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 being accused in the UN’s top court of trying to wipe out the people, but Yusuf embraces the song, seeing it as a symbol of defiance and a future return.
“Myanmar is my homeland,” he said. “The country did no harm to us. Its powerful people did. My young sister died there. Our people were slaughtered. “Still it is my country and I will love it till the end,” Yusuf said.
The denial of education for years is a powerful symbol of Bangladesh’s ambivalence towards the refugee presence, some of whom have been relocated to a remote, flood-prone and previously uninhabited island.
“This curricula reminds them they belong to Myanmar where they will go back some day,” deputy refugee commissioner Shamsud Douza said.
But when that might happen remains unclear, and visiting UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said this month that conditions were “not right for returns.”
Repatriation could only happen “when safe and sustainable conditions exist in Myanmar,” she added.
She dismissed the suggestion that the Rohingya camps could become a “new Gaza,” but Dhaka is now increasingly aware of the risks that a large, long-term and deprived refugee population could present.
Around 50 percent of the almost one million people in the camps are under 18.
The government “thought educating the Rohingya would give a signal to Myanmar that (Bangladesh) would eventually absorb the Muslim minority”, said Mahfuzur Rahman, a former Bangladeshi general who was in office 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 young men with no education in the camps.
Already security in the camps is a major problem due to the presence of criminal gangs smuggling amphetamines across the border. In the last five years there have been more than 100 murders.
Armed insurgent groups also operate. They have gunned down dozens of community leaders and are always on the lookout for bored young men.
Young people with no prospects — they are not allowed to leave the camps — also provide rich pickings for human traffickers who promise a boat ride leading to a better life elsewhere.
All the children “could be ticking time bombs,” Rahman said. “Growing up in a camp without education, hope and dreams; what monsters they may turn into, we don’t know.”
Fears remain over whether Bangladesh may change its mind and shut down the schooling project, as it did with a program for private schools to teach more than 30,000 children in the camps earlier this year.
Some activists condemn the education program for its insistence on following the Myanmar curriculum, rather than that of Bangladesh. With few prospects of return, the Myanmar curriculum was of little use, said Mojib Ullah, a Rohingya diaspora leader now in Australia.
“If we don’t go back to our home, why do we need to study in Burmese? It will be sheer waste of time — a kind of collective suicide. Already we lost five years. We need international curricula in English,” he said.
Young Yusuf’s ambitions also have an international dimension, and in his tarpaulin-roofed classroom he read a book on the Wright brothers.
He wants to become an aeronautical engineer or a pilot, and one day fly into Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon.
“Someday I will fly around the globe, that’s my only dream.”
Stephen King, the famed horror writer, once observed that post-apocalypse novels are essentially impossible. Nuclear plants would melt if human civilization disappeared, while chemical plants and pipelines and other infrastructure would poison the earth. Organized life would be impossible. Could it happen here? This year the Taiwan Climate Change Projection Information and Adaptation Knowledge Platform (TCCIP), which is supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology, produced its 10-year assessment of local climate research: The Taiwan Climate Change Projection Information and Adaptation Knowledge Platform: A Decade of Climate Research. The platform and numerous climate-related policies were spurred by the disastrous typhoon
Sept. 26 to Oct. 2 Members of the Japanese Diet were appalled at the ever-increasing costs to build Governor-General Gentaro Kodama’s residence in Taipei. Not only did the colonial government keep adding items to the grand complex, they also tapped into funds allocated for the Taiwan Shinto Shrine. That was blasphemy! “I can’t imagine how much they would have spent to build what kind of palace if Shimpei Goto had his way,” civil engineer Hampei Nagao recalls in Story of the Governor-General’s Office (總督府物語), a book by Huang Chun-ming (黃俊銘). Goto, the civil administrator of Taiwan, was summoned to Japan to
Anyone with the ambition to complete a cycle tour around Taiwan would do well to begin with a shorter trip to learn the ropes. Taitung County, with its pristine beaches, spectacular ocean views and mountain trails, is an ideal place to start. There is something of a magnetic draw to the glory of the Pacific Ocean. Just enjoying the sea breeze makes it worth the effort, but there are lots of other things to see and do to make a two or three-day trip a pleasure. I embarked on this adventure on an unusually hot August weekend with the mercury tipping
Danny Wen (溫士凱) had an eye-opening homecoming experience. First it was the township chief who went to school with his uncle. Then it was the trail builder who knew his mother. There was even a connection with an indigenous Saisiyat elder, who spoke Wen’s Hakka dialect fluently and once stayed at his grandfather’s hotel in Hsinchu County’s Jhudong Township (竹東). “That hotel closed in the 1970s and I can’t even find old photos of it,” Wen says. “I felt goosebumps all over when he told me that.” The travel writer and television host didn’t expect his journey through the 270km