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Bangladesh Closes Rohingya Camp Private Schools

Kayaphuri School headmaster Mohammad Showife was printing out questions for the ninth-grade exams when armed police raided his office at Bangladesh’s largest private school for Rohingya refugees.

The 32-year-old Showife told VOA that the police confiscated his computer and printer, and in the morning, returned to seize benches and whiteboards and lock the school’s door.

"Police asked whether we had any official permission for the school," he said. "We didn't have any in a written format. Our leader, Mohib Ullah, got verbal permission from camp in-charge [an official appointed by the government] to open the school. Now all of a sudden, the Bangladesh government decides to close it down."

The secondary school, founded in 2019 by a Rohingya leader who was killed last year, was the latest of roughly 30 such institutions in Rohingya camps to be closed by the police or that closed on their own in face of the police closures since December.

With the March 24 shutdown of the Kayaphuri School in the Kutupalaung Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, no more such schools remain in operation.

These makeshift structures of bamboo and tarpaulins, with minimal classroom facilities inside, served as lifelines for thousands of Rohingya children with very limited access to schools in the camps. The government did not grant legal status to the refugee-led schools but agreed in 2020 to allow them to operate and promised aid if needed.

However, Bangladesh’s Office of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, responsible for humanitarian assistance for Rohingya refugees, said December 13 that all such private schools in the Rohingya camps "must be shut down" as they were "illegal" because they did not have official permission to operate.

After the order, armed police began raiding the schools and confiscating school assets, including benches, whiteboards and, in some cases, computers, multiple sources told VOA.

Human Rights Watch claimed Bangladesh officials threatened to seize Rohingya refugees’ identification documents and forcibly relocate them to a remote, flood-prone island if they violated the ban on the schools.

"First the government blocked meaningful education for Rohingya children, then it closed the schools Rohingya set up for themselves, and now it threatens to banish teachers and students to a prison-like island," Human Rights Watch’s Bill Van Esveld said.

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