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World Refugee Day : addressing the needs of Rohingya refugees

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2009/Drik/Amin
Muzommil Haque , 11, is reading class 2 in a Primary school in Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

By Casey McCarthy

COX’S BAZAR, 20 June 2009: Abdul Munaf, 20, is many things. A son. A brother. A pre-primary school teacher. A refugee.

Munaf fled Myanmar with his parents and five siblings in 1992 when he was just three years old. They crossed the border to Bangladesh and ended up in a refugee camp.  He doesn’t remember much about his home country, but he knows he can not go back. He doesn’t want to.

“We came here to escape persecution. In Myanmar, our life was darkness. There was no security, we were persecuted because we are Muslim. We had no economic rights, arrested and detained for no reason. We were not citizens of our own country,” Munaf explains.

Today is World Refugee Day and, for Munaf, it is a day to celebrate. The theme, ‘Real People, Real Needs’ recognizes the plight of refugees around the globe and the work yet to be done to ensure their health and welfare.

Munaf is one of 27,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state seeking refuge in southern Cox’s Bazar district. For more than 17 years they have lived in Kutapalong and Nayapara camps, without freedom of movement, permission to work and limited access to education.

For the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and the 42 million uprooted people around the world, a shortage of life essentials - clean water, food, sanitation, shelter, health care and protection from violence and abuse - means that every day can be a struggle just to survive.
Although there is a long way to go to improve living conditions in the camps, the United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) acknowledges recent progress.

“In the past years the Government of Bangladesh has become increasingly open to working with international partners to find durable solutions for the Rohingyas, whose circumstances constitute one of the most protracted refugee situations in the world.”

© UNICEF Bangladesh/2009/Drik/Amin
Abdul Munaf,20, a Rohingya refugee, is teaching in one of the Primary schools of Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Living conditions in the camps have improved, better administration of justice has resulted in a marked reduction in arbitrary arrests, a new participatory camp management scheme has been introduced, and all refugees over the age of five have received identity cards.

UNICEF has funded play, pre-school and primary education in the camps for the past two years. Over 8,000 Rohingya children attend classes six days a week. All classes follow the government curriculum and include Burmese language classes as well. UNICEF supported a vaccination campaign in May to immunize over 12,000 children against measles and polio. Children in Kutapalong and Nayapara camps received Vitamin A and deworming tablets during the recent national campaign.

Munaf has been teaching pre-school students at the Kutapalong camp for the last five years:  “It is my duty to teach my nation. I am teaching them for their future, so that they have dignity in their life.”

Today though, Munaf and his students are not at school. Instead they are celebrating World Refugee Day with songs and dances, drama, learning about the importance of girls’ education, women’s empowerment, nutrition, family planning and early marriage. An exhibition of photos and items produced by refugees is on display and traditional Rohingya food on sale.

Festivities have been ongoing at both camps throughout the month, including art competitions, sporting activities and tree planting.

“On this World Refugee Day, let us remember that refugees too are real people with real needs. Helping them to rebuild their lives and their communities benefits us all,” said UNHCR High Commissioner António Gutteres in an official statement.

For Munaf and the other Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, rebuilding their lives remains a daunting task.



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