Although the Rohingya community is well known as the world’s most isolated and persecuted minority, one who has been subjected, systematically, to a slow-burning genocide by Burmese government. Despite this widely held knowledge, the Rohingya’s suffering from statelessness and hardship in their daily lives, both in Rakhine state, Myanmar, and everywhere else, (especially in countries such as India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia) is still ongoing and unchanged.
In fact, in some cases, it is reportedly getting worse rather than better as they are trapped, through vigorous policies, in these host countries; the Rohingya’s sole crime was to have gone there in search of a better life or to finally find home. The ultimate insult and tragedy for them is that their resettlement applications to those countries that signed the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention (for example Australia, the United States and Canada) are often turned down without due process, even though the Rohingyas’ return to their origin country, Myanmar, is a serious and real life threat.
What I describe here are the current circumstances of the Rohingya Refugees; it is the live voice of the stateless Rohingyas.
Having learned compassion through my vision of being a voice for those who are voiceless, I, recently visited a Burmese refugee family. The responsible member of this family, a father of four children, is very disillusioned and anxious for his children’s future. He said: “I do not worry about my own life, I have already suffered enough since my childhood. As the descendant of an ethnic people whose existence has been denied in their own country, it means I was born to belong nowhere in this world.” He added with tearful eyes that, since Indonesia did not sign the UN refugee convention, his children are deprived basic human rights: such as, in addition to their basic humanity, their right to physical protection, universal state-paid education, health care, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of the child's race, ethnicity, religion and national origin.
Nur Fatimah, thirteen years old, the oldest daughter in the family, is very fascinated with education; she speaks English and Bahasa very fluently.
“If I were not a refugee child, I would be going to school to fulfill my dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, I am growing up neither belonging anywhere, nor making any preparation for my future. However, I never stop studying by myself in this small room, although I do not feel comfortable with the noise and distraction. On the other hand, I have no option since I cannot go anywhere else to study. In the absence of a teacher or tutor, I do know what to read or study. The fact is that my parents also missed out on school while living in Myanmar, and therefore I cannot get any help from them.”
As far as I understand and according to the scientific research, good quality education has an important influence on child development. For example, the child's brain grows as she/he sees, feels, tastes, smells and hears. Each time the child uses one of his/her senses, a neural connection is made in the child's brain. New experiences repeated many times help make new connections, which shape the way the child thinks, feels, behaves and learns, now and in the future.
Research also showed that studying within the school system is the best way to nourish the child's growing brain. For instance, when school teachers play with and sing, speak, read or tell stories to children with love and affection, the children's brains grow. Schools also provide opportunities for social contact and promote good communication skills. Moreover, studying in teams not only give the children the feeling of comraderies, it also stimulates faster development as the children compete with each other to obtain the best possible grades from their teachers and gain respect from their friends.
When I asked the father why he did not send his children to Indonesian school, he replied:
“They used to go to Indonesian elementary school, but, recently, they have stopped going to school. I feel reluctant to push them because the Indonesian government has made no provision for the education of the refugee children. It was only because of the intervention of the International Office for Migration (IOM) that some children were allowed to go to basic school. Sadly, during their schooling, they were often singled out as immigrants, which is why I thought that it would be better to keep them at home rather than sending them to school, where they are not welcome at all."
“Why did you stop your schooling?” I asked Nur Fatimah. “I loved going to school, but the thing is I didn’t feel welcome there,” said Nur Fatimah. “ I was often locked up in the classroom and was also teased by other students. I was advised that I should not complain against the Indonesians because if I complained, I would be expelled from the school,” she added.
The government of Indonesia has not developed any sort of education system for refugee children, nor do they allow them to go local school. Exceptions are made for kindergarten and secondary school, as the result of an arrangement secured at the request by IOM. However, the only education available there is just English language tuition, which is given by Rohingya volunteers provided they live close by or share the same accommodation, otherwise there is not even a chance to learn English, although it is regarded as essential for the refugees’ survival.
The refugee children in Indonesia not only suffer from denial of their rights as children, but also from lack of child care. For instance, there several cases of families that have yet to be assessed for Refugees status by UNHCR, which means they are not receiving any protection and live in great poverty, unable to provide basic care to their children.
“The allowance given by IOM monthly is hardly enough for food. Even though we, as parents, try to provide good care for our children, we often fail because we lack the bare essentials,” said Salim. His wife, Zaitun, expressed that “I want to see my children enjoying a life with good care and child rights, but instead we are stuck in a country where I cannot see my children having any future at all.”
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], most of the basic human rights,for example freedom of movement, access to education, freedom of speech, access to decent living conditions, are deliberately denied by the Indonesian government since Indonesia is not one of the countries that signed the UN 1951 Refugee Convention. Moreover, the Refugees and their children in Indonesia are not only suffering from lack of human rights, but also from various mental disorders because their lives are without hope or future.
Therefore, it is important that the international community, in coordination with the UNHCR, resolve to prioritise the resettlement of Refugees in Indonesia as a matter of urgency, in order to ensure their survival as human beings, in the same way that their own citizens do, and in the way that everyone deserves to do on earth.
Today, we live in our own modern, self-created world as opposed to the traditional people of long ago, who lived much longer than us, and breathed peacefully in a God-created world. It is sad indeed when we ignore what is before our eyes, and instead remain locked in the self-absorbed, narcissistic lives of mechanised human beings; for we have been living, since the day of our birth, with the motto:
“Life is a race; if you do not run fast, you will get trampled.”
Moreover, we hardly have time for, or pay any attention to, those who want us to hear their voices of suffering and sorrow. As a result, their condition remains the same and in time, it gets even worse ultimately leading to the misery of mental disorder and disease.
Therefore, If I am ever granted an opportunity to fulfill the promise of who I really am, I will definitely become a passionate human rights advocate. Since my childhood, I have been dreaming to be a voice for the voiceless, to bring their plight from darkness to light, from their lonely corner to international attention, listening closely to their inner voices by studying the causes and effects through direct conversations with them.
Thus, in order to reach to my goal, I have started studying the experiences of other human rights activists in order to acquire knowledge and improve my own education, while listening to the Refugees who have been in dire situations through deprivation of human rights.
It is said that nothing remains the same, that everything turns. However, one thing appears to remain frighteningly constant: it is the Refugees’ tragic circumstances.”
Joniad born and raised in Arakan (Rakhine) state, Myanmar (Burma) is a human rights activist. He