The Sesame Street children’s television program has presented its first Rohingya Muppets to help thousands of refugee children overcome trauma and address the impact of the coronavirus on the world’s largest refugee settlement in Bangladesh.
Six-year-old twins Noor and Aziz Yasmin will appear alongside famous people from the show, such as Elmo and Louie, in educational Rohingya-language videos at camps, according to Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the show.
“Noor and Aziz are at the center of our efforts to bring early education … to children and caregivers … tremendously impacted by the dual displacement crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Sherrie Westin, President of social impact at Sesame Workshop.
“For most Rohingya children, Noor and Aziz will be the first characters in the media to look and sound like them … [they] will bring the transformative power of playful learning to families at a time when it is needed more than ever. “
According to UN figures, children make up more than half of the roughly 730,000 Rohingya who arrived in Bangladesh in 2017 after a mass exodus from Myanmar, and now live in camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Earlier this year, aid agencies said the risks of child marriage and trafficking had increased in the camps as camp activities were reduced and youth services were closed amid the pandemic.
Questions and answers
Who are the Rohingya and what happened to them in Myanmar?
Described as the most persecuted people in the world, 1.1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar. They predominantly live in Rakhine State, where they have uneasily coexisted alongside Buddhists for decades.
The Rohingya say they are descendants of Muslims, perhaps Persian and Arab traders, who came to Myanmar generations ago. Unlike the Buddhist community, they speak a language similar to the Bengali dialect of Chittagong in Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are vilified by many in Myanmar as illegal immigrants and suffer systematic discrimination. The Myanmar government treats them as stateless and denies them citizenship. Strict restrictions have been placed on the Rohingya’s freedom of movement, access to medical care, education and other basic services.
Violence erupted in the northern state of Rakhine in August 2017, when militants attacked government forces. In response, security forces supported by the Buddhist militia launched a “clean-up operation” that ultimately killed at least 1,000 people and forced more than 600,000 to flee their homes. The top UN human rights official said the army’s response was “clearly disproportionate” to the insurgent attacks and warned that Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority appears to be a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.
When Aung San Suu Kyi came to power, there were high hopes that the Nobel Peace Prize would help heal Myanmar’s deep-rooted ethnic divisions. But she has been accused of staying on the sidelines while violence is committed against the Rohingya.
In 2019, judges of the international criminal court authorized a large-scale investigation into allegations of mass persecution and crimes against humanity. On December 10, 2019, the International Court of Justice in The Hague opened a genocide case brought by The Gambia.
Sesame Workshop described Noor as a passionate and curious girl who loves to invent fun new rules for games, while her brother is a storyteller whose creativity can sometimes distract him from his daily tasks.
Brac, a Bangladeshi NGO and partner in the program, said the video segments would start soon. “This will definitely help Rohingya children to stay connected to their roots,” said a Brac spokeswoman, Hasina Akhter.
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