Strengthening connections

Published 27. Aug 2021|Updated 25. Aug 2021
Why social cohesion matters for the Rohingya and host Bangladeshi communities.

In 2017, atrocities by the Myanmar military drove over 850,000 Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh, where they continue to live in temporary settlements today. Over the past four years, as conditions inside the refugee camps have deteriorated, the host community in Teknaf and Ukhiya—who generously welcomed refugees in 2017—have seemingly grown wary of their protracted presence. Intensifying environmental, economic and social impacts linked to continued Rohingya displacement have raised tensions, and studies since 2019 have documented declining social cohesion between refugee and host communities.

The present study, undertaken by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in collaboration with researchers at Dhaka University (DU), assesses the challenges and opportunities to social cohesion in the Rohingya context. The report maps out social tension across five issue areas: environment and ecology; labour market; cultural and political landscape; land; and the presence of the humanitarian community.

Between November 2020 and February 2021, qualitative data was collected through two streams—through interviews and focus group discussions with both the host and refugee community conducted by researchers from Dhaka University; and through an analysis of existing briefs, policy papers, and research material produced by NRC’s ICLA programme and IRC’s Protection programme in Bangladesh. In July, a further round of remote interviews was conducted with NGO practitioners and policy leaders to triangulate findings.

Key Findings 

  • Tensions remain between refugee and host community regarding access to land and livelihoods, and regarding the impact of refugee settlements on the local environment.
  • While some host community members oppose the presence of refugees, a much larger portion of respondents are either supportive, ambivalent or balanced in their views.
  • Covid-19 has magnified differences and misgivings between refugees and the host community. Over one year of rolling lockdowns, many (in both communities) have lost jobs and access to livelihoods. Indebtedness has increased, as has hunger and frustration.
  • Within both refugee and host communities, perceptions of respondents who identify as female vary from those of respondents who identify as male. Across issue areas, female respondents focus on material needs, deprivations, and barriers to social cohesion; while male respondents identify anxieties around gender roles, cultural considerations and perceived threats to morality.
  • Indications that media coverage of refugees has misrepresented perceptions on the ground.

Download the report: