Rohingya Refugees Lost Between Languages In Bangladesh

Caught between a host country trying to hinder their integration and a home country holding back their return, Rohingya children find themselves in linguistic limbo.

A Rohingya refugee looking over Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh

COX'S BAZAR — When Mohammed Reyas works on his math classwork, his mind splits among multiple languages.

The 11-year-old, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, starts counting in Burmese: "Tit, hnit, thone." He then switches to Bangla: "Char, panch, chhoy." Then Rohingya: "Hant, anchtho, no." Finally, he finishes in English: "Ten, eleven, twelve."

It's been a year and a half since Mohammed fled with his family from their home in Buthidaung in Myanmar's Rakhine state to Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. There, he studies in a makeshift learning center perched on a steep hill in the world's biggest refugee camp.

In class, he learns in English and Burmese, the latter the official language of Myanmar. At home with his family and friends, he speaks Rohingya, a spoken language used by Rohingya people that has no written form. He has also picked up Bangla words and phrases from Bangladeshi locals and aid workers in the camp.

This mix of languages is normal for young Rohingya refugees. But language has become a political battleground. It is a means of assimilating but also a source of exclusion for Rohingya people on both sides of the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Bangladeshi government bans Rohingya refugees from learning the local language as part of its reluctance to allow their long-term integration. Meanwhile, the Rohingya believe they will someday return home to Myanmar, so parents want their children to learn Burmese. Some feel that raising their children with Bangla as the dominant language might further alienate them from the Rakhine and Burmese population once they return home. In the meantime, not knowing Bangla results in marginalization in Bangladesh, their host community.

"The advantage of learning Burmese is that it would provide an opportunity for Rohingya children to reintegrate into the education system in Myanmar in the future. It is their national language," says Karen Reidy, spokesperson for UNICEF, which runs 1,800 learning centers in the camps covering 155,000 children.

A "lost generation"

More than 1 million Rohingya refugees are living in Bangladesh, a figure that includes nearly half a million children. They have been called a "lost generation." A report by Save the Children last year estimated that more than 70% of Rohingya children in Bangladesh are not in school. Those who do have access to education attend sessions for about two hours per day, at grade levels far below their age.

Mohammed's 9-year-old sister, Yasmin, has also been exposed to multiple languages since they arrived in Bangladesh: "Minglaba" (a greeting in Burmese), she says. Then, in English, "Hi, how are you?"

Her instructor, Najim Ullah, a 22-year-old Rohingya refugee, teaches students the alphabet, rhymes and how to write sentences in Burmese.

"We will not be here for long," Ullah says. "They need to know Burmese when we return home."

Why do the Rohingya need to learn Bangla? Their language is Burmese.

But the Rohingya may not return to Myanmar anytime soon — and there is a chance they never will. In November, a plan put forward by Bangladesh and Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya fell apart when no one agreed to a return because of continued hostility in Myanmar.

Twice in the past, in the late 1970s and early 1990s, there was a mass outflow of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar into Bangladesh, and Bangladesh resisted any attempt toward their integration. Despite the harsh conditions and Bangladesh's pressure on the Rohingya to return home, many from the previous refugee waves opted to stay there.

That's why parents, aid workers and the children themselves wonder whether learning Burmese will serve young Rohingya in the future.

Rohingya refugee children are exposed to multiple languages — Photo: KM Asad/ZUMA

The Bangladeshi government attempts to prevent Rohingya integration in numerous ways. It prohibits formal schooling for Rohingya refugees and has recently cracked down on their attempts to study in Bangladeshi schools. And last year, it circulated a notification forbidding Bangla from being taught in the camps.

"Our policy is to provide informal education. Why do the Rohingya need to learn Bangla? Their language is Burmese," says Abul Kalam, chief of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission in Bangladesh. "They are here temporarily. The government is negotiating their repatriation strategy."

Mixing and matching

A study by Translators without Borders conducted in the camps last year found Rohingya is the language the refugees understand and prefer. Since Rohingya lacks a universally accepted script, Burmese is the preferred language for written communication. Interestingly, after Rohingya and Chittagonian (the local dialect of Cox's Bazar), spoken Bangla is understood at higher rates than spoken Burmese and English — likely because the spoken form of Bangla is closer to Rohingya.

"We have a chaotic situation in the camps. Burmese and English are being taught, but the mode of teaching is a mix of Chittagonian, Bangla and Rohingya," said A.K. Rahim, a sociolinguistic researcher with Translators Without Borders in Cox's Bazar, when he explained the study's findings at the Dhaka Lit Fest in November.

"There are cognitive dissonance issues among the children, simply because they are being bombarded with so many different languages that are not standardized in any way," he added. "There is no way to foresee what is their academic educational future, so they don't know which language to choose."

It helped me build a future.

It's common to hear of Rohingya people learning Bangla at night among themselves in the camps. A news report suggests Rohingya children are learning Bangla in secret from private tutors, themselves refugees who had fled the earlier waves of violence and managed to study in Bangladeshi schools.

"They all want to learn Bangla. I have seen young Rohingya children read and write Bangla, though not openly," says Ziaul Islam, a professor at the University of Chittagong, who researched the state of education in the camps last year. "They have the right to a better education, whether they stay back or return."

Zahid,* a Rohingya refugee in his late 20s, arrived with his family at the Kutupalong camp in the early 1990s. He was born in Bangladesh and studied in a Bangladeshi school by faking his identity papers and identifying himself as Bangladeshi. He speaks English and Bangla, apart from his native language, Rohingya.

"It helped me build a future," he says. He works with an aid agency and moonlights as a fixer and translator for international aid groups and journalists.

With both Bangla and Burmese being so politicized and not native to the Rohingya people, one recommendation by education experts and researchers is to develop a curriculum in English and include a component of mother-tongue education at the primary level.

Nasir Uddin, an anthropology professor at the University of Chittagong and a longtime researcher on Rohingya refugees, says, "Since this problem will not be solved anytime soon, we need to involve the Rohingya people and ask them what education they need for their future, instead of deciding for them."

*Some names of refugees have been changed in order to protect their safety.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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