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April 4, 2021 Centre for Peace and Justice

On March 29, 2021, the Refugee Studies Unit of Centre for Peace and Justice, Brac University (CPJ), hosted the third and final webinar in its Rohingya Camp Voices Webinar Series, “Strengths and Aspiration of Rohingya Refugees.” The discussion addressed key issues related to the role of youth in peacebuilding, social cohesion, livelihood development and education for Rohingya children and girls. Azizul Hoque, Research Associate at CPJ, moderated the discussion.

Five Rohingya youths, esteemed research volunteers working on CPJ’s current project,  Bridging Community and Humanitarian Responses to Covid-19 in Rohingya camps, represented the Rohingya community in the webinar. They shared their ideas, opinions, current perspectives, and hope of finding a solution to the Rohingya humanitarian crisis in Cox’s Bazar.

Abdullah, a Rohingya photographer and humanitarian, gave his speech as the first Rohingya speaker of the webinar. He addressed the urgent issue of fire incidents occurring in the Rohingya camps and urged for prompt action to solve the problem. “We have seen roughly 20 fire incidents in the camps since 2017. This one was the biggest crisis. We need training and awareness on how to prevent fires, and we also call on humanitarian organizations to provide adequate fire extinguishing equipment in the camps. Fire services should also have a unit within a kilometre of the camps,” he added.

Mohammad Ahtaram was the next speaker. He called on his community to build a peaceful society through social cohesion and unity. Instead of using violence or bad politics, he said, people should show love toward one another and work to build peaceful relations between Rohingya and other Myanmar communities. He concluded his speech mentioning a popular 350-year old American saying, “United we stand, divided we fall.“

Mirza Nur, a singer and performer in a Rohingya-led cultural club, shed light on a unique and important topic, the hidden talents and potentials of Rohingya youth. He said that nobody talks much about these talents. Rohingya youth have dreams and goals to become someone or to be famous, like all youth do. Mirza Nur further explained that Rohingya youth don’t have enough opportunities to express and exhibit their talents through poetry, filmmaking, and storytelling through video and performance. He wants the world to support them to utilize their talents, not merely to donate rations.

Umme Salma, a Rohingya storyteller, emphasized the importance of education in their lives. She thinks all the bad practices such as dowry, child marriage, polygamy and others are increasing in the community as most of the people are uneducated. She asked for support from international communities, particularly for women, because they are oppressed in many ways. Umme Salma also drew attention of humanitarian agencies to the need to provide essential materials for female fire victims.

Hossain Mubarak, a Rohingya teacher, gave a powerful speech in which he showed the path youth can take to remove darkness from their lives. He believes education can enlighten their community. He identified lack of education as the main reason for the Rohingya crisis. He said, “Do you know why we are the most persecuted? It’s just because of education. We have very few medical doctors, lawyers, engineers in our community, unlike other developed communities.” Thus, he requested the Bangladesh government and the international community to ensure Rohingya’s access to education.

After the five Rohingya youth representatives, the webinar’s featured guest, Mr. Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation in United Kingdom, brightened the event with a valuable speech. He said, “Rohingya youths are our hope and our future. We need to constantly empower our youth leaders both in Bangladesh and Myanmar.” He expressed his gratitude toward the Bangladesh government for giving shelter to the Rohingya community, and to the humanitarian organizations for providing life-saving aid. However, he emphasized that every organization in Bangladesh should have a policy to work for the long-term empowerment of Rohingya people by hiring them, providing training, and raising funds for Rohingya-led CBOs in the camps. Mr. Tun Khin added that although they were denied the right to education right in Myanmar, Rohingya youth could utilize their current situation by organizing informal youth networks, learning important issues like women’s right, social cohesion, conflict management, and gender equality. “We can strengthen our youth for our future,” he said.

Mr. Tun Khin expressed his condolences and solidarity with the victims of the massive fire. He added that fire is not the only disaster that causes serious suffering for refugees. There are many other challenges, such as monsoons, cyclones, floods, landslides, and the current Covid-19 pandemic, which may still cause further loss of life. These all need to be taken into account.

After these speeches, Azizul Hoque opened the floor for the audience to share their questions and concerns. Rohingya participants actively engaged in the question session. They were mostly concerned about how Rohingya should react to the ongoing protests in Myanmar against the February military coup. Mr. Tun Khin advised them to show solidarity with the protestors and to use this opportunity to build a good relationship with other communities in Myanmar.

Finally, CPJ Executive Director Manzoor Hasan concluded the event with his remarks. “The voice of Rohingya youth should be projected to the world through this type of webinar,” he said. “We need unique educational programs in the camps, and international organizations have to come forward for this.” He promised to continue this work and said he hoped to convince policymakers and others to work for the betterment of both Rohingya and host communities.

Click the link to watch the recording of webinar from CPJ’s Facebook Page

See news coverage on the event: Dhaka Tribune