Five years after genocide in Burma, thousands of Rohingya children in Bangladesh still lack access to formal education

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington (November 30, 2022) – Today, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific, led his colleagues Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power to work with the Bangladesh government, NGOs, and the United Nations (UN) to ensure access to education for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children who have fled violence in Burma and are seeking refuge in the neighboring nation. To date, Bangladesh hosts the largest population of Rohingya refugees from Burma – more than 926,000, over half of which are children. In 2021, authorities in the country banned Rohingya-led schools in refugee camps and have continued to restrict efforts to provide additional educational opportunities for refugees in Bangladesh.

“Rohingya refugees suffered immeasurable harm while escaping violence in Burma. They continue to face considerable challenges in host countries such as India and Malaysia, but especially in Bangladesh, which hosts more Rohingya refugees than any other country,” the Senators wrote in their letter. “The United States must work with the Bangladesh government and humanitarian organizations to improve educational opportunities and increase enrollment and participation for Rohingya students—including by allowing community-led schools to operate, taking steps to overcome cultural barriers to female education, and protecting the safety of students and teachers—to ensure that all Rohingya children in Bangladesh are able to secure an accredited education.”

“At the same time,” 
the Senators continued, “USAID and the State Department should support the Bangladesh government in these efforts by increasing funding for education in the refugee camps and by providing additional technical support to these crucial programs. This should include a USAID-led assessment of educational progress in the camps, with recommendations for how U.S. and international funding can better serve the educational needs of the Rohingya refugee population in Bangladesh.”

Specifically, the Senators requested the Department of State, in coordination with USAID, to urge the government of Bangladesh to:

  1. End any policies that limit the right to education of Rohingya children in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and on Bhasan Char;
  2. Take all necessary steps to ensure that all Rohingya children in Bangladesh have fair and equitable access to quality, formal, and accredited education, including by providing, or allowing others to provide, sufficient teachers and infrastructure;
  3. Ensure that Rohingya teachers are given equitable opportunities and salaries for teaching positions in the camps;
  4. Establish a process for Rohingya community-led schools to request legal status and operate as a certified, accredited, and integrated part of the official Bangladesh government-approved educational system for the camps;
  5. Work with UNICEF to identify additional facilities that may be used, even on a temporary basis, to hold classes in order to expand access to the Myanmar curriculum;
  6. Work with UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations, in consultation with Rohingya teachers and community leaders, to start a teacher training program within the refugee camps so that more Rohingya community members can be trained and brought on as full-time teachers to support the program; and,
  7. Expand the Myanmar Curriculum Pilot in coordination with UNICEF, with the ultimate goal of including all school-age Rohingya children.

Since the February 2021 military coup in Burma, Senator Markey has been a leader in calling out the atrocities carried out against the Rohingya minority in Burma, which has caused thousands of Rohingya refugees to flee across borders to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh. In March 2021, Senator Markey chaired a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee on “The U.S. Response to the Coup in Burma” where he reiterated his call for the administration to make a genocide determination.

In January, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the coup in Burma, Senator Markey led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the administration asking it to make a formal determination as to whether genocide or war crimes have been committed by the military in Burma. In March, Secretary Blinken announced that the United States has formally declared the crimes committed against the Rohingya people by the Burmese military as genocide. Additionally, in December 2020, Senator Markey urged the government of Bangladesh to restore telecommunications for the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.