9 months ago

Impact of Rohingya influx on the host community in BD

-Reuters file photo
-Reuters file photo

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The country's largest influx of Rohingya refugees occurred in 2017 following the military aggression in the Rakhine State. According to UNHCR, an estimated 7,73,972 Rohingya people entered the country as refugees, totaling 9,43,539, including the previous influxes. The Rohingya refugees who entered the country in 2017 and afterwards are called Forcefully Displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs).

The Rohingya people started seeking refuge in Bangladesh as early as 1978. The first influx in 1978 consisted of 250,000 Rohingyas, and the second in 1991-1992 was of similar number. During this time, UNHCR established 20 camps in Cox's Bazar district for the Rohingya refugees. In 1993-1997, 230,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated back to Myanmar. After that, in 2017, the largest number of Rohingya people (655,000) fled Myanmar and sought refuge in Bangladesh. From 2017 to 2019, the total number of refugees increased to 826,485 with the influx of new refugees.

IMPACT OF PROLONGED STAY OF THE ROHINGYA REFUGEES ON THE HOST COMMUNITY: The prolonged stay of the Rohingya refugees is creating a strain on the resources available for the host community living in the adjacent areas to the camps. The strain on the resources is thereby causing many other indirect problems in the host community.

Furthermore, the prolonged stay has also degraded the quality of life and environment of the host community areas adjacent to the camps. As a result, the conflict between the host community and the Rohingya community is increasing. Response of most of the host community people is, "Take them back to their own country". This article attempts to look into the major direct and indirect impacts of the Rohingya influx on the host community and suggests interventions that can help contain the crisis.

GROUNDWATER AVAILABILITY: The Rohingya influx has had a massive negative impact on groundwater availablity for the host community. Most of the refugees reside in the camps located in Ukhiya and Teknaf of Cox's Bazar. The host community residing in both of these regions faces dire water crises. As most of the surface water available in these two regions is saltwater owing to the location of the regions, the main source of drinking and cooking water is groundwater. Due to the need created by the influx in 2017, one deep tubewell for 20 families was set up in the camps to meet the refugees' demand. However, increased groundwater use has reduced the groundwater level by 9-11 feet, according to a government official.

As a result, it is getting increasingly difficult for the host community residing in hilly regions to access groundwater, which is the direct source of pure drinking water. Apart from this, the cost of installation of deep tubewells has also soared as the depth to reach the water level has increased.

INFLATIONARY PRESSURE ON LOCAL MARKETS: The influx has increased the overall market price of all commodities due to increased demand. The income of the host communities did not increase in contrast. Rather, increased supply from other districts to meet the local demand has suppressed the price of the local produce. Also, there is an increasing incidence of distress sales; the farmers from the host communities often sell their produce at a lower price to meet their immediate needs. Another impact of the price hike is that households who face a strain on their income/savings are forced to reduce their meal intake.

The price of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) products has also increased alongside the water shortage. This also has an overall negative impact on the WASH condition of the host community households who do not have support from development aid. Apart from that, the food for the camps is procured from Chottogram or Chakaria, which are far from the camps. 

Furthermore, the price of commodities varies greatly between camp areas and host community areas. The FDMN population from the camps sell the rations they get at a very low price to make a profit regardless of the price. As a result, people, even from the host community, prefer to buy at a lower price from the camp's adjacent markets. This causes the host community producers and sellers to sell at a much lower price, sometimes at a loss.

DEFORESTATION AND CONTAMINATION OF AGRICULTURAL LANDS: Deforestation in the hilly areas to meet the accommodation needs of the Rohingya community has caused noticeable environmental pollution. According to a report published by UNDP, the Rohingya refugees are occupying 4,818.1 acres of land. In order to accommodate them, 1,999.5 acres of project forest area and 2,917.6 acres of natural forest area were destroyed.

While there have been attempts at reforestation, the amount of cultivable land still needs to be fully recovered. Besides, the camps' waste has infiltrated the host community's cultivable lands and water bodies, causing soil and water pollution. This has led to depleting soil fertility.

REDUCED WAGE RATE AND DEMAND FOR LABOUR: The host community labourers cannot find work at fair wage rates. The people from the Rohingya community demand much lower wage rates than the standard wage rate for the host community. For example, if the host community does a job for TK 500, a labourer from the Rohingya community will do the same for TK 100. The clients prefer to get their work done at a lower cost, which leaves the labourers from the host community workless.

As a result, many people from the host communities are shifting to risky and temporary livelihood activities. For instance, many young men are taking up the job of driving indigenous transports without taking driving lessons. This has increased fatalities and injuries due to road accidents. 

The influx has also caused the demand for workers in some industries to increase. For example, the need for drivers (tom-tom and on-rent), restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops, etc., have increased due to more tourists and NGOs moving to Cox's Bazar to deal with the Rohingya crisis.

However, the host community people are not skilled in the tasks required for the emerging sectors. The lack of availability of work and worsening conditions of income are giving rise to crimes in the areas adjacent to the camps. The frequency of crimes like the drug trade, burglary, theft, robbery, kidnapping for ransom, etc., has increased due to the overall financial stress in the host community.

LACK OF HEALTHCARE AND INCREASED CONFLICT BETWEEN HOSTS AND ROHINGYAS: The increased number of patients at community clinics makes the people from the host community suffer. While the people from the host community mention that the quality of health services and the number of awareness programmes have increased after the recent influx, they complain that the health facilities prioritise the FDMNs.

As the adjacent camp clinics often refer the FDMNs to local host community health service providers, there are long queues and crowds for the host community to get their services. This often discourages them from seeking professional treatment unless the situation is dire.

INCREASED GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE: The gender-based violence cases have increased by 50 per cent after the recent influx of FDMNs. According to studies undertaken by Innovision Consulting, as the recent influx has caused financial strain on the male heads of the households, they tend to get into arguments with their wives during financial discussions. These arguments often lead to violence against women. Furthermore, there are many married men from the host community marrying girls from the Rohingya community. This also leads to violence against the wives from the host community.

A POSSIBLE WAY OUT OF THE NEGATIVE IMPACT: Joint effort by GoB, local government, NGOs, INGOs, private and civil society and donors towards the construction of rubber dams, storage of rainwater and regulation of groundwater usage is necessary.

A well-planned and governed usage of groundwater and surface water can mitigate the imminent water shortage in Ukhiya and Teknaf. According to the Upazila Agriculture officers from both districts, the best way to deal with the water crisis would be to preserve rainwater as effectively as possible during the rainy season. The stored water can serve the needs during the dry seasons. Constructing rubber dams in the hilly regions' water bodies will also help preserve freshwater. Other than that, the construction of deep and shallow tube wells should be monitored, prohibited and scattered as necessary.

Increased coordination among NGOs, local food suppliers and other stakeholders to build an effective market system and strict governance of the market system. There are many interventions already in place to address food shortages and market system gaps. The coordination within civil society organisations, government organisations, private society, NGOs, and INGOs and among the different groups can help to find more effective solutions to all the problems existent due to the Rohingya influx. 

Coordination among the suppliers and consumers, and customers will give a proper idea about the demand-supply and price situation of the market. A market system where the host community is directly involved in providing food commodities for the Rohingya camps will help them find some profit in having the camps around by increasing their sales. Furthermore, coordination among the different stakeholders, including the local suppliers, will ensure proper price and address the variation in price in the different regions.

USAGE OF LOCAL AND CAMP CHILDREN AND PEOPLE IN WASTE MANAGEMENT AND INCREASED EFFORT TOWARDS AFFORESTATION: The main reason for pollution in the camp's adjacent areas is the lack of efficiency in waste management. Construction, repair and maintenance of sewage canals should be the first priority, followed by the construction of the canals with enough capacity to deal with the waste produced. Segregation of waste at source is necessary and both people from the households and children in the community can play an important role in this case. While afforestation activities are proving to be very fruitful, afforestation in the camps and surrounding areas should be emphasised more.

Strict governance over fixed wage rates in collaboration with local law enforcement.

In a publication by Brookings in response to the black market established by the Syrian refugees in the countries providing refugees, it was suggested that opening the labour markets for the registered refugees can bring some stability in wage rates. However, it was found that even this approach cannot fully address the reduced wage rate issue. In Bangladesh, while there are already various policies which can address issues like unequal wage rates in the host communities, policies are often not implemented.

CONCLUSION: The Rohingya crisis has started putting the host community into an inevitable crisis due to their prolonged stay. If such conditions persists, the conflict between the Rohingya community and the host community will rise to unmanageable proportions. Under such circumstances, as much as the FDMNs must be repatriated to their country, it is also necessary for relevant parties to intervene to address the most concerning issues.


Md. Rubaiyath Sarwar, Managing Director, Innovision Consulting Private Limited [email protected].

Raisa Binte Hossain Aurin, Associate at Economic Growth Portfolio, Innovision Consulting Private Limited.
[email protected]

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