|Alastair Lawson-Tancred, spokesman of UNICEF Bangladesh, after an interview with The Korea Times and other journalists at Royal Tulip Sea Pearl Beach Resort near the Rohingya refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Friday. / Korea Times photo by Park Ji-won|
By Park Ji-won
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh ― In one of the most controversial areas in the world where allegedly 1.2 million refugees fleeing Myanmar are residing, there is a British guy who has visited there on a daily basis since April.
Alastair Lawson-Tancred, spokesman of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Bangladesh, eagerly emphasizes to journalists about the reality of the Rohingya camp, asking for international attention, especially for the children who have no opportunities for education.
He was previously a BBC correspondent there.
"The fact that it is not sustainable for those guys to stay in the camp indefinitely, it is important that the international community doesn't forget about them," Lawson-Tancred said to The Korea Times Friday at the Royal Tulip Sea Pearl Beach Resort at Cox's Bazar, a border town with Myanmar in southeastern Bangladesh where the Rohingya Muslims have been actively fleeing from "ethnic cleansing" by the Myanmar army since August last year.
"If you are going to the camp at dusk, you see all the boys playing football ― 15- to 17-year-old boys. If you chat with them, you realize none of them are getting any kind of education, which is just heartbreaking."
According to him, more than half of the roughly 1 million Rohingya staying in the camps are children, most of whom are under 17 years old.
The former reporter stressed that the organization's huge concern is those children as they can rarely get educational opportunities due to the lack of facilities and personnel. But all this can be resolved through the cooperation of the international community.
UNICEF has opened 1,000 education centers, but as there are approximately more than 500,000 children in the camp, they get only 2 hours of unilateral lectures conducted by the host community's Bangladesh volunteer workers and themselves, according to him.
"The aim is to ensure all 9- to 14-year-olds can go to the learning center and be provided for eventually. They are opening another 1,000 centers in the next six months."
Among many problems, one of the difficult parts of his organization's job is persuading parents, of teenage girls in particular, to educate their children as they are reluctant to let their children leave their shelter, considering the possibility of crimes against women or trauma engraved by the process of fleeing Myanmar.
Lawson-Tancred also pointed out one of the major problems is children in the grey zone, aged over 14, who are in need of education.
"What UNICEF describes is a lost generation of teenagers."
Lawson-Tancred said political actions between countries, which could enable a breakthrough to resolve the problems, haven't been sought so far, possibly due to political differences, hence the need for constant large-scale attention to the issue from the international community until the situation improves, especially for the children.
Warning that "we could be going back to square one again," he said the refugees can contribute to society.
"If they are given a leg-up by the government and aid agencies provide universal education to start their own businesses so they can have the benefits that host communities have, in 10 or 15 years time, they would be an asset economically rather than a liability."
He urged the need for aid from the international community from such countries as South Korea, which already has a huge presence there.
"South Korea has a strong link to Bangladesh. There are many South Korean aid agency workers there. In fact, if you asked me to name two countries to which Bangladesh has strong ties, I would say South Korea and Japan."