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Rohingya sing the anthem of Myanmar 5 years after the Exodus

#Rohingya #sing #anthem #Myanmar #years #Exodus

Every morning at his school in the refugee camp, Mohammad Yusuf sings the national anthem of Myanmar, the country whose army forced his family to flee and is accused of killing thousands of its people.

Yusuf, now 15, is one of hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim ethnic Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar military launched a brutal offensive five years ago on Thursday.

For almost half a decade, he and the large number of other refugee children in the network of run-down camps received little or no schooling, with Dhaka concerned that education would mean acceptance that the Rohingya would not go home anytime soon.

That hope seems further than ever since last year’s military coup in Myanmar, and authorities last month finally allowed UNICEF to expand its school program to 130,000 children and eventually everyone in the camps.

But the host country still wants the refugees to go back: classes are in Burmese and schools follow the Myanmar curriculum and also sing the country’s national anthem before classes start each day.

The Rohingya have long been viewed as despised foreigners by some in Myanmar, a largely Buddhist country whose government is accused before the UN Supreme Court of trying to wipe out the people, but Yusuf hails the song, seeing it as a symbol of resistance and the one future return.

“Myanmar is my homeland,” he told AFP news agency. “The country has not harmed us. His powerful people did it. My young sister died there. Our people were slaughtered.

“Nevertheless, it’s my country and I’ll love it to the end,” Yusuf said.

– ‘Ticking Bombs’ –

Years of denial of education is a powerful symbol of Bangladesh’s ambivalence towards the presence of refugees, some of whom have been relocated to a remote, flood-prone and previously uninhabited island.

“These curricula remind them that they belong to Myanmar, to which they will one day return,” Deputy Commissioner for Refugees Shamsud Douza told AFP.

But when that might happen remains unclear, and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said this month the conditions were “not right for a return”.

Repatriation can only happen “if there are safe and sustainable conditions in Myanmar,” she added.

She dismissed the suggestion that the Rohingya camps could become a “new Gaza Strip,” but Dhaka is now increasingly aware of the risks that a large, long-term and disadvantaged refugee population could pose.

Around 50 percent of the almost one million people in the camps are under 18 years old.

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 charge during the exodus.

Dhaka has now “recognized” that a longer-term plan is needed, he said, not least because of the risk of having a generation of uneducated young men in the camps.

Security in the camps is already a major problem, with criminal gangs smuggling amphetamines across the border. There have been more than 100 murders in the last five years.

Armed insurgent groups also operate. They’ve shot dozens of community leaders and are always on the lookout for bored young men.

Young people without prospects who are not allowed to leave the camps also offer rich booty to human traffickers who promise a boat trip to a better life elsewhere.

All of the children “could be ticking time bombs,” Rahman told AFP. “Growing up in a camp without education, hope and dreams; we don’t know what monsters they can develop into.”

– dreams of flying –

Fears remain as to whether Bangladesh might change its mind and scrap the school project, as it did earlier this year with a private school program to educate more than 30,000 children in the camps.

Some activists have condemned the education program because it insists on following the curriculum of Myanmar and not Bangladesh.

Given the slim prospects of a return, Myanmar’s curriculum is of little help, said Mojib Ullah, a Rohingya diaspora leader now in Australia.

“If we don’t go back to our homeland, why do we have to learn Burmese? It would be a complete waste of time – a kind of collective suicide. We’ve already lost five years. We need international curricula in English,” he said.

Young Yusuf’s ambitions also have an international dimension, and in his canvas-roofed classroom he read a book about the Wright brothers.

He wants to become an aeronautical engineer or pilot and one day fly to Myanmar’s commercial hub of Yangon.

“One day I will fly around the world, that’s my only dream.”

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