Tokyo Study Session with Parliamentarians: Rohingya Children Need Access to Education for Future

Tokyo, 7 October 2019

Tokyo Study Session with Parliamentarians: Rohingya Children Need Access to Education for Better Future
UNICEF Tokyo/2019

Tokyo, 7 October 2019 - Promotion of access to quality education for displaced Rohingya children in Myanmar and Bangladesh holds the key to ensuring their better future and building peace, according to speakers at a study session held in Tokyo on October 7.

Addressing the "Study session on Rohingya humanitarian response for parliamentarians," UNICEF Myanmar Representative June Kunugi said, "Education is about addressing the root causes of the fact that people are not treated equally, they are not respected equally, they are treated differently. Education is the key to building a more stable, tolerant and cohesive society."

Kunugi explained the initiatives taken by UNICEF Myanmar, including support for non-formal primary education in 59 schools in 10 out of 17 townships.

The event, also joined by Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Bangladesh Representative, was co-organized by the Parliamentary League for UNICEF and UNICEF Tokyo office. Lawmakers present at the session included Nobuhide Minorikawa and Yuichiro Hata, vice president and secretary-general of the parliamentary league, respectively.

Over the last decades, discrimination and oppression against the Rohingya people have resulted in the mass displacement of them from and within Myanmar.

Hozumi said that over 745,000 Rohingya refugees have arrived in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, including 410,000 children, since August 2017, when the exacerbation of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State forced them to flee across the border.

Meanwhile, in Rakhine State, which lags behind the national average in virtually every area, around 128,000 Rohingya live in IDP camps while a population of 715,000 need humanitarian aid, according to Kunugi.

With the two Japanese representatives of the key UNICEF offices present, the study session highlighted the presence of Japan in international efforts to seek the solution to the Rohingya issue, including its contribution to UNICEF programs in Bangladesh totaling 27.16 million dollars between 2017 and 2019. Such aid has led to the achievement of the access to formal or non-formal education for 213,000 children aged 4 to 14 years in 2019, among other things, according to Hozumi.

Susumu Kuwahara, Deputy Director-General/Deputy Assistant Minister of the International Cooperation Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said it is significant that such friendly cooperation has been maintained among the parliamentary league, UNICEF and the Japanese government.

“UNICEF is Japan’s important partner in terms of diplomacy and aid policy. Japan intends to further strengthen ties with UNICEF,” Kuwahara said, expressing his hope that “particularly in Myanmar and Bangladesh, Ms. Kunugi and Mr. Hozumi, both Japanese nationals, will continue to play active roles as representatives.”

While both representatives expressed gratitude for Japan’s support from both the public and private sectors and stressed the need to solicit more international assistance, Hozumi mentioned challenges in Bangladesh.

"Refugees are totally reliant on aid. There is no substantial work or employment opportunities. They are not effectively allowed to work," said Hozumi. Hozumi also referred to majority of youth (81%) aged 15 to 24 years that are not engaged in learning or skills training opportunities, insisting that more educational and training services be provided to such people.

Kunugi, meanwhile, said there has been cross-border collaboration between the two offices, including shared materials on early learning and non-formal education, among other initiatives.

In the Q&A part of the session, parliamentarians including Hon. Koichi Yamauchi, a Lower House member, showed great interest in this issue, asking many questions to the UNICEF representatives.

Questions raised by Hon. Kozo Yamamoto and Hon. Takeaki Matsumoto, both members of House of Representatives, concerned Rohingya refugees’ sense of belonging to Myanmar, including the issue of nationality.

Responding to their questions, Kunugi recalled when she visited camps at Cox’s Bazar in September 2018, she realized the refugees, including children, all wished to go back to Myanmar, remembering the villages they came from.

“But they are concerned because they have fresh memories of the violence. There is a sense of belonging, but there is also concern and fear.”

Hon. Yasutaka Nakasone, a member of the Lower House, asked what could be done to stop violence in Myanmar, which prevents successful return of the refugees.

Kunugi replied education would be the key, referring to a program called “learning together” at 160 schools in Rakhine involving children of different ethnic groups, including the Rohingya. “It’s actually trying to promote social cohesion,” Kunugi said, hoping such programs will encourage children to understand “they can learn together, live together.”