One early afternoon, thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh’s sprawling refugee camps had just completed their midday prayers and were moving toward makeshift tents for lunch.
A sweet sound of the recitation of the Quran by a chorus of children was heard from a camp-based mosque in camp no. 12.
The world’s largest refugee settlement in Bangladesh, divided into 34 camps, is currently home to more than 1.2 million Rohingya, most of whom fled a brutal military clampdown in their home country of Myanmar's Rakhine State in August 2017.
Mohammad Ekram Ullah, 42, was teaching the Quran to children inside the mosque. He has been teaching three batches of children.
Ullah, also the imam at that mosque who leads worshipers in five daily compulsory prayers, voluntarily serves the children in his community.
"Before fleeing the genocide in my home country in 2017, I was a teacher at an Islamic seminary there. Hundreds of children learned the Quran along with the traditional education at that institute. Now, I am trying to keep our children busy in reading at least the Holy Quran so that they are morally enlightened and not misguided," Ullah told Anadolu Agency.
The religious leader was speaking on the eve of International Literacy Day celebrated on Sept. 8. UNESCO declared the day on Oct. 26, 1966, to highlight the importance of literacy.
Ullah said because of their status as “displaced nationals of Myanmar,” and not refugees, the Rohingya people in Bangladesh’s camps are allowed to only complete the primary level of education in a limited number of learning centers approved by authorities of the host country.
“Already, we have passed five years here since the latest exodus. Hundreds of our school-going children have been dropped out and many children are growing up without even minimal education and no scope for higher education," Ullah said, adding that the Rohingya were at high risk of being leaderless in the future.
Restrictions on education depriving Rohingya
A father of three, Abdul Hamid told Anadolu Agency that education was not a privilege but a basic right of every human. His eldest son is supposed to be studying at the secondary level.
"But, I have no scope in Bangladesh to continue the education of my son. Now, I'm worried about my other two children and whether I can ensure even primary education for them," said Hamid, who asked: What will the future hold for the next generation if they are not educated?
Bangladesh has banned thousands of camp-based learning centers run by educated Rohingya young people, citing internal discipline and safety.
"In December 2021, Bangladesh reversed course and banned all Rohingya-led schools and 'home-based' learning facilities, affecting roughly 32,000 students," the Human Rights Watch said in March.
The New York-based rights watchdog alleged that the Bangladeshi government was tightening the screws to prevent refugee children from "any access to formal education, after years of deliberately depriving them of quality schooling."
Bangladesh has denied the allegation and claims that educational activities in all approved learning centers were going smoothly.
More local, international support needed
According to a statement in April 2019 by the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs almost half of the 540,000 Rohingya refugee children under the age of 12 are missing out on education altogether.
"The remainder have access only to very limited schooling. Only a handful of teenage children are currently able to access any form of education or training," it said.
The chairperson of the European Rohingya Council, Ambia Perveen, told Anadolu Agency that without immediately ensuring education, including at the higher level, the future would be very grim for the Rohingya.
"One must not forget that education is a basic human right regardless of color, background, and religion," said Perveen.
She added that Rohingya should be given "pens and papers" with other basic rights to write their own stories.
"As we don't know how many years it will take to start a sustainable repatriation, the Bangladesh government and the international community should focus on education for Rohingya in the refugee camps as we are not allowed to have access to education outside," she said.
The Council also warned that if the children are not educated, they would be subject to abuses including child marriage, child labor, drug peddling, and human trafficking.
"As a result, they will not only be a threat locally and regionally, but also for the whole world," it said.