Good planning needs to create work opportunities for the Rohingyas

Shariful Islam, guest columnist,


  • Font increase
  • Font Decrease

Three years have passed since more than seven lakh Rohingyas entered Bangladesh. Providing shelter by Bangladesh to the driven out Rohingyas was highly appreciated. In some cases, it has been criticized. Rohingyas and human rights activists have criticized Bangladesh for shutting down mobile networks and shutting down 3G and 4G networks after millions of Rohingyas gathered to mark the first genocide yay in 2019. 3G, 4G mobile network and internet services were shut down for almost a year. In the last week of August 2020, 3G and 4G mobile networks were restored in the Rohingya camps. The Rohingyas are appreciating these positive steps of the Bangladesh government and are expressing their gratitude through social media.


Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Committee on the Ministry of Disaster and Relief of Bangladesh has made a landmark recommendation. The recommendation of the committee is that the Rohingyas should be engaged in various productive activities without keeping them idle (Samakal, August 26, 2020). Being idle, Rohingyas are getting involved in various criminal activities. It has been recommended to make sports and entertainment arrangements for the Rohingyas and make them competent. The parliamentary committee has highlighted the need to impart training in various productive jobs including handicrafts.

The observation of the parliamentary committee is not inconsistent because, as the saying goes, the idle brain is the devil's workshop. Even after three years, the recommendations of the parliamentary committee are practical. It remains to be seen to what extent these recommendations are taken into account. However, the recommendation also indirectly limits the use of Rohingyas in camps. In this article, the recommendations of the parliamentary committee have been used to empower the Rohingyas and give them access to their workplaces, even outside the camps. There are humanitarian and legal arguments in favor of giving refugees other basic needs, including job opportunities. However, the economic aspect is discussed here. At the same time, some recommendations have been made about what the government should do.

In light of Myanmar's behavior and past experience, the repatriation of large numbers of Rohingya in a few years is unimaginable. Although almost all the Rohingyas were repatriated in 1989, it was not possible to repatriate all those who came in 1991-1992. The repatriation of more than 200,000 Rohingya to Myanmar began in 1994 but has not yet ended. When Myanmar stopped taking Rohingyas in 2005, about 22,000 registered Rohingyas remained in Bangladesh, now numbering about 34,000. With this in mind and the prospect of sending more than one million Rohingya in the next decade, according to Myanmar's screening rules, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is impossible. This number is for Rohingyas and their children who came to Bangladesh in 1991-1992, who entered Bangladesh from 1991-1992 to August 2017 and came in August-September 2016.

Keeping the Rohingyas confined to the camp and not allowing them to work can weigh heavily on public opinion. Because, Bangladesh with limited economy has its own population several times more than many countries of the same size. Although the unemployment and poverty rates have come down according to government estimates, they have not come down to a satisfactory level. In this situation, if 'foreign' Rohingyas are given the opportunity to work, 'we' or 'our' people will not get jobs - such public opinion or expert opinion will come, it is normal. However, keeping refugees unemployed for long periods of time or relying solely on relief has various negative effects on the hosting society and the state. Many times when refugees are kept under ban, they find different ways to survive. They may even get involved in criminal activities without finding a way. Only the refugees are to blame. However, it is not often seen that it also indirectly persuades the strict rules and regulations of the host country. If the Rohingyas are idle for a long time, they may get involved in various illegal activities including criminal activities. This perception of the parliamentary committee is not unreasonable for this.

At the same time, international aid for the Rohingyas may be reduced in the coming days. Now the organizations are not getting the required funds. For example, in 2019, 921 million was applied for Rohingyas in the Joint Action Plan. But only 650 million was available from various countries and donor agencies, which is 70 percent of the need. On the other side of the world, if there is a refugee situation due to war or conflict, there will be a shortage of international aid for the Rohingyas. Under the supervision of the Government of Bangladesh, various organizations, including the International Refugee Agency, will begin to meet the basic needs of the Rohingyas, especially food and medical care. In this way, many organizations will gradually close down due to lack of funds. That is the reality. Then earning a living for the Rohingyas will be a life and death struggle. Rohingyas have gone through similar situation in Bangladesh before.

Before such a situation arises, Bangladesh should adopt well-knitted plan should where the human rights of the Rohingyas will be important along with the interests of the country. The Prime Minister said in 2016 about opening the border for Rohingyas to enter, if necessary, we will share our food with them. She said this from a humanitarian point of view. This sharing also falls into the category of job opportunities. However, giving the Rohingya’s job opportunities is not the only thing that will benefit them. It can also have a positive impact on the economy of Bangladesh. Refugee researchers - in particular, Karen Jacobson, Jeff Cripps, Alexander Bates and Paul Collier - their observations said that allowing refugees to enter the labor market has a positive effect on the host community or country in many ways.

Government policymakers need to think about how to allow the Rohingyas to enter the country's labor market. For this, Rohingyas can be examined in different places of the world where they have been given the opportunity to study, work and move. The conference can be held at home and abroad to get international loans and grants.

The government may call on researchers and academics involved in research on refugee issues at home and abroad to comment on the employment opportunities for Rohingyas and the various effects. Government can also hold international conferences with them. Bangladesh can learn a lot from theoretical discussions, incidental and comparative analysis of refugee situation in different countries of the world. Theoretical discussions between Alexander Bates, professor of forced migration and international studies at Oxford University and Paul Collier, an economist, have influenced the Jordanian government to allow Syrian refugees to enter the country's labor market and receive education. Bates and Collier argued in an article in 2015 that allowing refugees to enter the workplace is more beneficial than harming the host country. According to them, by entering the workplace, refugees can afford to support themselves. At the same time they can play a role in the economy of the host country.

The issue of Rohingyas working outside the camps could be based on some kind of agreement or compromise with international donors. Contrary to the financial support of foreign donors in various development activities, a certain number of Rohingyas can be given jobs and wages according to their qualifications. In 2016, the Jordanian government allowed Syrians to work on low-interest foreign loans and grants through the Jordan Compact. Jordan's decision came as a shock to many. In Jordan, the issue of giving Syrian workers the right to work was not very popular at that time, as the unemployment rate in the country was 12 to 14 percent until June 2016.

As part of the country's access to the labor market, special economic zones could be created for the Rohingyas, albeit on a small scale, near the camps. Here, besides the Rohingyas, the citizens of Bangladesh should also get job opportunities. This will reduce the idea of deprivation among the locals. The Rohingyas can try to win the support of the donor community in Bangladesh by selling the products produced or manufactured at special prices and entering the international market duty free. As the international community puts pressure on Bangladesh to grant refugee rights to the Rohingyas, Bangladesh can use that pressure as an opportunity. They can be contracted to invest in special economic zones and purchase goods made in the region. In order to make the general public interested in purchasing these products, the government of Bangladesh may think of running a campaign through the organization by working on Rohigya issues at home and abroad.

The government can also impose income tax on the specific income of Rohingyas. In contrast to income tax, the government of Bangladesh can provide various services for them. To ensure their rights, they have to be brought under the existing labor rights law. This will stop the exploitation of Rohingyas.

Since the repatriation of Rohingyas is very unlikely to take place within a year or two, they need to think about not being idle and arrange for their employment. The recommendations of the parliamentary committee should not be limited to the camps but should be extended beyond. The government should be interested and take initiative to fix what should be done for this.

Shariful Islam, PhD student, Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi.