Extremism growing among Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar camps
by Sumon Corraya

Bangladesh doesn’t allow refugee children to attend schools with their Bangladeshi peers. A radical group, Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, fills the educational gap with its own 1,200 madrassas. Activists warn against the danger of future terrorist attacks.

Cox’s Bazar (AsiaNews) – Abdur Rahaman, 12, a Rohingya refugee has lived in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh for more than two years. When he was home, in Myanmar, he wanted to be a doctor, but now everything has changed. “Here I cannot go to school. My parents enrolled me in a madrassa. Now I will never be a doctor."

Like Abdur, thousands of other children cannot go to regular school and are increasingly becoming "prey" to Islamic radicalism taught in 1,200 Islamic schools.

Together with his parents, Abdur fled Myanmar after the outbreak of the violence in August 2017. At present, about 740,000 Muslim refugees live n various camps along the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Abdur currently lives in Camp 3 in Ukhiya where he attends the Majida Arafat Madrassa. “I enjoyed my school in Myanmar. There, I was in grade three,” he told AsiaNews. Now he has to go an Islamic school because he can’t go to a regular school.

Bangladesh doesn’t allow refugee children to attend local schools along with Bangladeshi pupils. Local and international NGOs run pre-schools or child friendly spaces where they learn Burmese and English.  But according to parents, what is offered is not up to the task of providing a real education.

Ali Johar, 45, has three children. In his view, the children are only getting recreational time. “For our kids, it is just to pass time. They don’t learn much. I see them: Most of the time, the children play, eat, or sing.

Madrassas are filling the educational gap. Children learn Arabic and are taught to memorise and recite Qurʼānic verses, without any critical study of the religion. These schools are run by Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, a group with a long history of protests.

During the visit to the Ukhiya camp, Atur Rahman, the group's local leader, says: "All religions have terrorists. But when Muslims act, you call us extremists or militants."

The proliferation of madrassas in refugee camps has set off alarm bells among experts and activists, according to whom children are the easiest target for radicalisation.

“There are 39 militants groups in Rohingya refugee camps,” said Shahriyar Kabir, a Bangladeshi journalist, filmmaker, and human rights activist. “That is big threat for Bangladesh”.

This is a serious threat to the future of children as well. One of them, Madhubon Akter, is a 14-year-old girl attending a madrassa for girls who says she “has no dreams” anymore.