Understanding the Rohingya crisis: A Researcher’s diary
Research Officer, BBC Media Action Bangladesh
“My husband was killed in Myanmar, and I had to flee with my children, leaving everything behind. I didn’t know where I am going. But, after coming to this camp I am living a much better life.” Rohingya widow, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh.
In late January I visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar to find out how the community gets its information and the media they preferred – to inform the humanitarian programmes we’re supporting local broadcasters to make in response to the emergency.
It was my first visit and I had mixed feelings – empowered at being part of this huge emergency response, yet not ready to confront the brutal reality of what so many people had faced.
While designing any research we always map the ethical considerations before we go to the field. I was hesitant to ask people to relive difficult experiences, and very conscious that Rohingya people are managing extreme trauma.
However, whilst people were distressed I felt the interviews acted as a catharsis for them as they talked about their past and expressed their fears about what the future held.
Many aid agencies around the world are responding to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis after more than 670,000 Rohingya people fled into Bangladesh last year. However, the illiteracy rate is high, so people living in the camps are often not aware they’re entitled to relief or how to access the services available.
This is where BBC Media Action comes in.
Since October 2017 we’ve been supporting local partners to make humanitarian programmes in the local dialect - which is, largely, understood by Rohingya people in the camps and the host communities in Cox’s Bazar.
But, we wanted to do more to reach the affected communities.
So, through focus groups we explored how people are able to access information. It was fascinating.
We discovered the Rohingya people in the camps get information via word of mouth from “Majhis”, selected leaders who, in turn, acquire information from aid workers. Religious leaders are also a trusted authority.
The majority of Rohingya are Muslims. Women tend to leave the home only if they have something important to do – and they cover themselves up while outside. “We pray during our breaks and talk to our neighbours, that is our only entertainment,” as one woman told me.
It means that many women rely on the men in their family for information – and those without male relatives (such as the large number of women who were widowed before leaving Myanmar) find it even harder to find out what is going on.
Most women have no access to mobile phones and even men, who own a phone struggle to recharge them because there is little electricity in the camps.
In other humanitarian emergencies, such as in Jordan and Darfur, our listener groups have helped vulnerable people – such as women and children – to get information and support each other.
But here, whilst some women feel able to come to the listening group, others only attend if they are women-led, women-only groups and held inside homes or shelters.
These research insights are being used to shape our communication plans – radio programmes, podcasts, vital face-to-face information at community hubs as well as sharing our content for the door-to-door communication carried out by UNICEF and other partners. And, we now know that making content aimed at women, as well as training and providing this content to information workers at the places that women (and children) are able to visit - is key.
But to continue making effective programming for displaced people and host communities (many of whom told us of their concerns about losing land, trees and other assets), there is still more we need to understand. For example, how we can work with the local and religious leaders to disseminate information using their networks. Likewise, we need to find a way to disseminate our media content further in the areas with scarce electricity. And, we need to continue to find ways to connect, support and inform female-led families and other vulnerable groups.
Without a doubt this is complex humanitarian emergency – where information is aid – so we continue to strive to reach those most affected with vital and life-saving information.
Aniqa Hossain is a Research Officer in Bangladesh
With our support, Bangladesh’s state broadcaster and Radio Naf have now broadcast over 100 episodes of the radio programme Beggunar Lai (For Everyone), with our support Radio Naf is now producing Shishur Hashi (Children’s Smile) a programme aimed at children. A monthly programme called Betar Sanglap (Radio Dialogue) - aired by the state broadcaster – is offering a space for the local Bangladeshi communities affected by the emergency to ask questions and share their views with local officials and aid providers.
BBC Media Action’s work within the Rohingya emergency response is funded by Global Affairs Canada, the UK Department for International Development and UNICEF; and is delivered in partnership with Action Against Hunger and IOM.