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Rohingya Refugee Crisis in Bangladesh

Authors: Khadijah Syahidah Pinardi, Lorraine Lee Yi Ying

Research Head: Jade Yong Yu Jia

Editor: Uday Sasthaa


Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled across the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh due to Myanmar’s military invasion in Rakhine, Myanmar, in August 2017. The Rohingya, one of the minority ethnic groups in Myanmar, were escaping what the United Nations calls an “ethnic – cleansing” act by the Myanmar military forces. This paper explores the Rohingya refugee crisis’s history, the socio-economic and political impacts on Bangladesh, and recommendations on how Bangladesh could constructively handle this crisis.

Rohingya refugee crisis’s history

Before the 2017 Rohingya refugee crisis, thousands of Rohingyas have already fled out of Myanmar to escape violent actions by Myanmar’s forces. In August 2017, Myanmar’s security forces, backed by local Buddhist villagers, burned villages and killed many Rohingyas. The troops were told to ‘kill all you see’ by the higher-ups (Beech et al., 2020). Furthermore, according to the survivors, the forces decapitated men, raped women, and then put their bodies in a mass grave (Beech et al., 2020). It was estimated by Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) that at least 6,700 Rohingyas were reportedly killed one month after the violence broke out in Rakhine, Myanmar (BBC News, 2020).

Moreover, Human Rights Watch reported that at least 288 villages were destroyed in northern Rakhine, resulting in more than 700,000 Rohingyas fleeing out to Bangladesh through land and sea (BBC News, 2020). Myanmar’s soldiers claimed that the ‘clearance operations’ were the response to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) militants’ deadly attacks on August 25, 2017. However, during the attack, witnesses said that almost all of the people killed were innocent people (Gettleman, 2017).

Socio-economic impacts on Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a developing country that still struggles to provide for its citizens. Bangladesh welcomed the Rohingyas Muslims on humanitarian basis. However, the influx of these refugees proved to be a challenge to the Bangladeshi government as additional money was drawn to fund the refugee camp.

Increase in poverty rate

The influx of Rohingya refugees has depressed wages for agricultural and other unskilled work in Teknaf and Ukhiya, both administrative regions of Cox’s Bazar district in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The average wage of day laborers was depressed because they were paid at a lower wage rate than Bangladesh workers. A study showed that the poverty rate has increased both in Teknaf and Ukhiya by 2.73 and 2.63 percentage points due to the drop in average wage of day laborers (United Nations Development Programme, 2018).

Decrease in reserved forests and wildlife habitat

According to Cox's Bazar Forest Department data, thousands of acres of reserve forest (worth approximately $55 million) were destroyed and used for temporary refugee housing (Hashim, 2019). Moreover, every day, more than half of a million kg of lumber and plants are taken from the forest for cooking oil for the Rohingyas (Hashim, 2019).

Political impacts on Bangladesh

Dwindling support for the Rohingya people

Bangladesh has welcomed the Rohingyas for decades, having refugee camps built near the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Kutupalong refugee camp, in Cox’ Bazar, Bangladesh, houses about 600,000 Rohingya refugees and is the largest refugee camp in the world. However, there has been growing hostility towards the Rohingya refugees over the decades. Many Bangladeshis accuse the Rohingya of crime, taking jobs and pushing down wages (McPherson & Uddin, 2019). The growing concerns of trafficking of Yaba, a popular narcotic drug, through the refugee camps and the rising fear of jihadist radicalisation among refugees also led to the dwindling support for the refugees (Bangladesh is moving Rohingyas, 2020).

Criticisms regarding the relocation of the Rohingya people to Bhasan Char island

To ease the congestion problem in the existing refugee camps, the Bangladesh government initiated a relocation plan for the Rohingya refugees to the remote island of Bhasan Char. However, the plan has drawn criticisms from some human activist groups and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Concerns were raised regarding the weak infrastructures on the island to withstand natural disasters prone to the island (flooding, strong storms, cyclones). There were also allegations that the Rohingya refugees were forced to relocate against their will (Beech, 2020). Bangladeshi authorities have yet to allow representatives from international human rights groups to assess the island’s situation. In response, the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the government had spent $350 million refurbishing Bhasan Char with “all modern amenities, year-round fresh water, beautiful lake and proper infrastructure” (Beech, 2020). However, this claim remains unverified due to the lack of assessment on the island.


Bangladeshi government needs to strengthen its current policies regarding the Rohingyas, particularly regarding the rising tensions between the refugees and locals and addressing the security concerns. Some social cohesion policies suggestions include agricultural projects where Rohingya and Bangladeshi farmers farm on joint plots and sports programmes that bring refugees and host communities together for exercise and recreation. Similar policies have been implemented in the Syrian refugee camp in Kenya and have received positive results (Rodgers, 2020).

Policies on increasing security measures such as increased surveillance and verification of undocumented refugees should also be enforced to deter illegal activities such as drug trafficking happening in the camps. Furthermore, the enhanced security would add assurance to the local community and reduce resentment of the refugees. Authorities should also allow the United Nations to assess the Bhasan Char island to ensure the safety and sustainability of the island.

International aid is still much needed to improve the situation of the Rohingya refugees. The recent coup by the anti-Rohingya Myanmar military junta signals the halt of the repatriation of the Rohingyas back to Myanmar. Also, the Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected the refugees’ community. Bangladeshi government must continue multilateral conservations with neighbouring countries to address the refugee crisis more effectively, especially with ASEAN. ASEAN has been criticised for its inactions towards the Rohingya Muslims committed by its member state, Myanmar and has been urged by the international community to carry out more concrete plans to tackle the Rohingya refugees crisis. The crisis is here to last and long term assistance, including financial support, food supplies and now, Covid-19 vaccines, are needed to support the refugees.


  1. Bangladesh is moving Rohingyas to a remote island. (2020, December 12). The Economist.

  2. BBC News. (2020, January 23). Myanmar Rohingya: What you need to know about the crisis. BBC News.

  3. Beech, H. (2018, July 19). Myanmar’s Military Planned Rohingya Genocide, Rights Group Says. The New York Times.

  4. Beech, H. (2020, December 4). From Crowded Camps to a Remote Island: Rohingya Refugees Move Again.

  5. Beech, H., Nang, S., & Simons, M. (2020, September 8). “Kill All You See”: In a First, Myanmar Soldiers Tell of Rohingya Slaughter. The New York Times.

  6. Beech, H., Nang, S., & Simons, M. (2020, September 8). “Kill All You See”: In a First, Myanmar Soldiers Tell of Rohingya Slaughter. The New York Times.

  7. Hashim, S. M. (2019, August 6). Socio-economic impacts of the Rohingya influx. The Daily Star.

  8. Rodgers, C. (2020, January 17). What Does “Social Cohesion” Mean for Refugees and Hosts? A view from Kenya. COMPAS.

  9. Uddin, P. M., A. S. M. Suza. (2019, September 17). Rohingya in Bangladesh face tide of hostility as welcome turns to fear. Reuters.

  10. United Nations Development Programme. (2018). Impacts of the Rohingya Refugee Influx on Host Communities. In

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