Universities take up Rohingya cause, call for research

The influx of more than half a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar since August is having a huge effect on neighbouring Bangladesh, including on its economy.

Many university groups in Bangladesh are protesting against the plight of the Rohingya and are calling on Myanmar to accept their return.

Academics are also pushing for more research to be undertaken on the crisis, its origins and the needs of the Rohingya group, in order to better prepare Bangladesh for its possible long-term impact on the country.

“Academic research on this issue so far is inadequate. There should be collaboration between international aid organisations and universities to do research on the Rohingya crisis,” Md Reazul Haque, a professor at the University of Dhaka’s department of development studies, told University World News. In particular, health and education are the major challenges for the Rohingya, he says.

“The Bangladesh government must have a long-term plan to address the issue and should take the issue to different international platforms,” he said.

Some research is underway in his department on Rohingya health and education needs, which are stark. Opportunities for Rohingya education in Myanmar’s Rakhine state had been limited prior to 2012, with very high rates of illiteracy reported – up to 80% illiteracy, according to some studies. Access to university education has for years been restricted within Myanmar for this Muslim minority.

In addition, academics in Bangladesh are particularly well placed to help counter the Myanmar government’s version of history.

Azrin Afrin, a history lecturer at Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka, told University World News historical documents show that Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar’s Rakhine state for centuries, yet the Myanmar government insists they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which underpins their moves to drive them out of Myanmar.

“This is absurd. Bangladeshi academicians should write more in international journals on the history of Rohingyas,” she said.

More than 507,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh over the past few weeks as Myanmar security forces launched a crackdown on 25 August, following attacks on border posts in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state by a Rohingya armed group. Refugees are still coming to Bangladesh weeks after the start of the violence.

During a visit in late September to the refugee camps inside Bangladesh, it was found that refugees were still looking for shelter and food after walking for 10 to 15 days on hilly roads. Many refugees alleged that Myanmar military forces are continuing their crackdown and burning of villages.

Support for Rohingyas

Academics and students at Bangladeshi universities have protested against the persecution of Rohingyas by Myanmar military forces and the majority Buddhists, which has forced them to flee to Bangladesh. The unplanned arrival of such a large number of destitute refugees in such a short period is a major challenge for Bangladesh.

Human chains and protest rallies were held at a number of universities in Bangladesh, while several university-based study groups arranged discussions about finding ways out of the crisis. Different university-based volunteer organisations distributed relief among Rohingya people. University teachers have taken part in television shows to discuss the crisis. Many medical students and teachers are providing medical support to the Rohingyas in the camps.

In late September, teachers and students at the University of Dhaka formed a human chain on campus to highlight the Rohingya plight. The university’s acting vice-chancellor, Professor Md Akhtaruzzaman, said the international community must put pressure on Myanmar to take back Rohingya refugees.

A Dhaka University-based organisation, the Bangladesh Study Forum, organised a public lecture titled “Rohingya Genocide: Unbearable past and uncertain future” at the university campus. Sabidin Ibrahim, spokesperson for the forum, said they wanted to increase awareness among young people about the Rohingya persecution and what Bangladesh should do to address the issue.

“The crisis of Myanmar’s Rakhine state has become a crisis for Bangladesh as well. We cannot sit idle about this issue,” he said.

Under the banner of the volunteer organisation, Youth Action for Good, students from the University of Dhaka also organised a seminar on the Rohingya crisis.

“We felt that it was our moral duty to make youth aware of the persecution of Rohingyas. If we fail to address the crisis, the issue will be a big burden for Bangladesh in the coming days. We discussed what Bangladesh should do to address the crisis,” said Shoeb Abdullah, a second-year student who helped organise the seminar.

Teachers at Bangladesh’s University of Chittagong also demanded Myanmar stop the genocide and take back the Rohingyas. They issued a joint statement in late September signed by the university’s president, Professor Mihir Kumar Roy, and the general secretary, Professor Moazzam Husain. The university’s law faculty also held a seminar on the need for a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis.

A human chain was also formed at Jagannath University, Dhaka in mid-September. Speaking at the event, Aynul Islam, an assistant professor and specialist in conflict, said more pressure should be put on Myanmar to stop the persecution of the Rohingyas. Similar chains were formed at many other higher education institutions, including Rajshahi University and Dhaka College.

The Bangladesh correspondent for University World News Mushfique Wadud visited Rohingya refugee camps in late September.