Navigating at the margins: family, mobility and livelihoods amongst Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
PublisherBrac University and The Asia Foundation
MetadataShow full item record
Decades of persecution of the Rohingya community in Myanmar have culminated in several large waves of forced displacement, and a total of nearly one million now live as refugees in the camps of Cox’s Bazar across the Bangladesh border. Many others have sought refuge in Malaysia and other countries across the region. Widespread irregular migration has reshaped Rohingya society, with a vast number of families splintered across multiple borders. Although international justice mechanisms are engaged, a durable political remedy for the crisis is not yet visible on the horizon. Since 2017, the humanitarian response has focused on short-term needs such as food, shelter, and basic healthcare. As the displacement crisis enters its fourth year, a shift in approach is due. This study, Navigating at the Margins, carried out by The Asia Foundation and the Centre for Peace and Justice, Brac University, utilizes qualitative and quantitative methods to document how Rohingya families in the camps of Cox’s Bazar cope with hardship, with a focus on family separation and economic challenges. Most separated family members possess no travel documents and have little prospect of reuniting. For some of those living in the camps, having relatives abroad can be a helpful way to cope with the challenges of refugee life. Remittances help fill the gap between the sustenance they receive as aid and the higher actual cost of living. But these are only available to a minority of households. Furthermore, displacement and separation tend to erode family ties that are critical to enabling repatriation in the future. Already, camp residents are more likely to have a relative living in a third country than in Myanmar, and a new generation of Rohingya are growing up in Bangladesh who do not speak the Myanmar language. The refugees’ sense of reprieve after fleeing immediate danger has given way to the realization that they will likely stay in the camps a long time. Therefore, their priorities have expanded to include longer-term necessities such as education for their children. Camp households are also pressed to find ways to come up with money for the assorted living costs not covered by aid, such as communication expenses, a more diverse diet, or healthcare for conditions not treated by camp facilities. However, access to Cash for Work programs or NGO jobs remains limited, and just under half of camp households report having no income at all to supplement aid. As a result, some families sell a portion of their rations or engage in riskier activities to make ends meet. The majority of refugee households also accrue unsustainable amounts of debt. Facing a bleak future in an environment offering no hope of upward social mobility, some opt to place their lives into the hands of traffickers and risk perilous travel to other countries. Medium-term livelihood solutions are needed to prevent harmful coping patterns and allow refugees, most of whom lost all their assets in the exodus, to rebuild their lives until they eventually leave the camps.