An independent lawmaker from western Myanmar’s war-torn Rakhine state is pushing the government to provide education to thousands of students who live in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in seven townships where they lack access to classes.
Legislator Khin Maung Latt told the Rakhine state parliament Tuesday that more than 5,000 children among about 50,000 civilians displaced by armed conflict and living in temporary camps should be enrolled in schools during the academic year.
Fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine military group that seeks greater autonomy in the state, has driven tens of thousands of villagers from their homes in northern Rakhine and in neighboring Chin state’s Paletwa township.
“There are over 50 schools in the conflict area,” said Khin Maung Latt, a former member of the Arakan National Party (ANP), which represents the interests of ethnic Rakhine people in the state. “Twenty of them don’t have any prospect of reopening.”
Because students hastily fled their homes with their families, some do not have household records, school certificates, school uniforms, or stationery, he said.
“The most important issue for them right now is to get them enrolled in schools where they can receive a proper education this academic year,” Khin Maung Latt said.
The lawmaker asked the government to use its current education fund or emergency fund to provide classes, teachers, and supplies for IDP students, and to help them get assistance from international aid organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Khin Maung Latt said ministries other than the education ministry should pitch in to provide services to the displaced children.
“Relevant government ministries need to do their jobs,” he said, pointing to the Ministry for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement as one of the government bodies that should be involved in the effort.
By way of example, he cited the many roadblocks in the region that prevent educational material from reaching students and food supplies from reaching the camps.
“Mostly, it is the government that has imposed these barriers,” he said. “The government has blocked some roads and prevented passenger boats from leaving the docks. It impacts the students’ well-being and denies them access to education.”
Win Maw Tun, Myanmar’s deputy minister of education, said the government has already enrolled about 2,200 students in classes in northern Rakhine schools.
“Students from refugee camps in Rakhine state are allowed to enroll in the schools nearest to their refugee camps,” he said. “We have also relaxed the rules and regulations that require documents for school enrollment.”
Zaw Zaw Tun, a relief volunteer in the region and secretary of the Rakhine Ethnic Congress, which has assisted displaced civilians in the region, pointed out that teachers may not be able to travel to the schools where the IDP students have enrolled.
“The government said students have access to their regular education, but [they] cannot attend school when teachers cannot come to teach them because of security reasons,” he said.
“And because the students are now staying in temporary refugee camps, they don’t have required school accessories such as uniforms and stationery,” he said.
Soldiers arrest teacher
In a related development, Myanmar soldiers on Monday arrested a schoolteacher in northern Rakhine’s Buthidaung township on suspicion of having links to the AA — the first government employee to be detained by the national army in the conflict area — a local education official said.
Troops arrested Nay Zaw Lin, a 27-year-old primary school teacher, as he traveled from the township’s Thayatpyin village to Kyarnyobyin village.
Thein Htun Win, the township’s assistant education officer, told RFA that soldiers found suspicious information on the teacher’s mobile phone.
When he went to visit Nay Zaw Lin who is being held at military regiment No. 551, the arresting officer said the teacher had engaged in suspicious activity.
“They said if he is not guilty, he will be released. They said it very nicely,” Thein Htun Win said.
The township official was not allowed to meet with Nay Zaw Lin, however.
“We didn’t get a chance to meet him directly,” he said. “We have reported the matter to district and township education officers.”
Government troops have detained scores of civilians they suspect of having ties to the AA amid the ongoing hostilities in Rakhine state. About 15 villagers have died while in military custody or after being released.
A resident of neighboring Rathedaung township, Nay Zaw Lin has worked as a teacher at Buthidaung’s Pyinchaung village primary school for three years and is currently teaching students from families displaced by the conflict who are living at the village monastery.
When contacted for comment about the teacher’s arrest, Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command responsible for Rakhine state, told RFA that he was not aware of the situation.
“I haven’t got this news,” he said. “The authorities might have detained him for questioning because it is the conflict area. I haven’t got this report.”
Sein Tun Hla, deputy director of the Rakhine State Education Department, said officials had been informed of Nay Zaw Lin’s arrest.
“We will work on this issue depending on the reports that we receive,” he said. “So far, we can’t say anything.”
Maung Win Hlaing, Buthidaung township’s deputy education officer, said other educators have been cautioned about traveling to work.
“We have alerted all our staff members to wear their school uniforms and carry their employee cards whenever they travel,” he said. “Now, we have challenges in fulfilling our duties since we face problems when traveling from place to place.”
RFA was unable to reach the Ministry of Education spokesman for comment.
Reported by Thiha Tun and Zin Mar Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.