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Rohingya Muslim Kids Find Peace in Madrassas

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh – Driven from their homes in the Buddhist-majority Burma by a wave of genocidal violence, Rohingya Muslim kids are finding peace in the madrassas (Islamic seminary) in their refugee camp in Bangladesh.

“I come here to learn the Koran. My mother wants me and my brothers to learn, to become a better person,” eight-year-old Saleema Khanam told Agence France Presse (AFP).

Khanam is the only girl in her local madrassa catering to Rohingya refugee children.

Since formal schooling, which suggests a permanent presence, is not allowed in the camps, the madrassas for many children are the only places to learn.

Horrific accounts of murders, rapes, torture, and indiscriminate shelling are allegedly committed by the Burmese army against the Rohingya people of west Burma as well as other minority groups.

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Islamic schools and houses of worship were torched in the crackdown by Burma troops and Buddhist gangs that UN fact-finders said amounted to crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya.

“By targeting our madrassas and mosques, they tried to erase our culture and religion from Rakhine,” said Rohingya activist Rafique bin Habib, referring to Burma’s westernmost state where the minority dwelled.

“But many of our top madrassa teachers survived and fled to Bangladesh, where they have set up schools in the camps so that our new generation can be deeply rooted in our culture and religion.”

Some of the madrassas are attached to prominent mosques and large enough for 400 students.

“These madrassas play an essential role in the survival of the Rohingya language,” said bin Habib.

On Aug. 25, 2017, Burma launched a major military crackdown on the Muslim ethnic minority, killing almost 24,000 civilians and forcing 750,000 others to flee to Bangladesh, according to the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

In its recent report, Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience, the OIDA increased the estimated number of murdered Rohingya to 23,962 (±881) from an earlier Doctors Without Borders figure of 9,400.

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, the OIDA report said, adding that 17,718 (±780) Rohingya women and girls were raped by the Burmese army and police. More than 115,000 Rohingya houses were burned and 113,000 others were vandalized, it added.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children, and women have fled Burma and crossed into Bangladesh after Burma’s forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community.