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New IRC report: More than 300,000 Rohingya refugee children need Internet access for remote learning during COVID-19 pandemic

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Three years since the start of the Rohingya crisis, more than 300,000 Rohingya refugee children in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh are missing out on an education due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government restriction on Internet access. 6,000 learning institutions in the largest refugee camp in the world are closed. In other parts of Bangladesh, governments and agencies are offering remote learning opportunities to children via the internet. However, in Cox’s Bazar, a government directive in place since 2019 (1) to ban internet access in the camp is excluding Rohingya children from remote learning. In a new report, the IRC calls on Bangladesh authorities to ensure all refugees have consistent access to speedy internet services across all camps in Cox’s Bazar so that children can learn. 

Gregory Matthews, Deputy Regional Director Asia, at the IRC, says, 

“It is critical that Rohingya children do not miss out on learning opportunities amidst COVID-related restrictions.  Since Rohingya refugees fled violence in Myanmar three years ago, children, who today account for 51% of the 860,243 Rohingya refugees (2) living in Cox’s Bazar, have been unable to access quality education in Bangladesh, compounding the impact of over two decades of exclusion from education in Myanmar."  

“Without a pathway to knowledge and skills, refugee children living in the Cox’s Bazar camps have little opportunity to support themselves in the future, exposing them to a higher risk of trafficking, child labor, and child marriage. We welcome the government’s approval of use of the Myanmar curriculum for Rohingya children and look forward to the benefits this program will bring Rohingya children. While the pilot program was postponed due to COVID-19 lockdown, if the government ensures appropriate internet connection and speeds, we can identify and pilot alternative digital learning technology to facilitate education for Rohingya children.”

“Girls are especially vulnerable as we see a global trend of increasing physical and sexual violence during lockdowns and rising exposure to predators due to increased child labor -- all this amidst reduced access to supportive adults such as teachers. But there is hope. Successful pilots like the IRC’s Pop-Up learning have indicated that quality at-home, digital learning is possible. With increased funding for education and more teacher training, we can boost education for refugees and local Bangladeshis.”

Many Rohingya refugees have been living in Cox’s Bazar for three years and there is uncertainty as to when they will return to Myanmar. This means children’s educational needs must be addressed for the long term. As countries deliver remote learning to out of school children, Rohingya children must not be left behind. Providing Internet access to Rohingya children would provide immediate opportunities by offering a pathway to begin distanced education programming and to disseminate crucial information about COVID-19.

The IRC works in Bangladesh to protect and promote the rights and serve the needs of the most vulnerable through women and children’s health and protection services, and effective response to the needs of people affected by conflict, disaster and poverty.  The IRC is scaling up our health response in Cox’s Bazar to respond to COVID-19 and mitigate the spread of the disease and is calling for an increase in funding from major donors to help us save lives. We are also continuing our critical primary health and reproductive health care services and providing gender-based violence case management to survivors of violence.

The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.

For more information or to schedule interviews, please contact Nancy Dent at Nancy.Dent [at] rescue-uk.org.

Sources:

(1) Mobile internet access in Rohingya camps

(2) UNHCR data

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.