Several waves of displacement and migration since 1990 have resulted in the splintering of many Rohingya families, who live indefinitely separated across Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and other countries. Meanwhile, refugees in Bangladesh endure the hardships of camp life while awaiting sustainable solutions to the crisis. A study by The Asia Foundation and the Centre for Peace and Justice, Brac University, explores mobility, hardship, and livelihoods among refugee families living in the camps of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The study is based on a representative survey of 1,611 refugee households and 50 in-depth interviews with camp residents. This policy paper summarizes main research findings on the prevalence of family separation, transnational support networks, and remittances, debt, income sources, and needs.

The findings challenge the representation of refugees as passive recipients of aid. Faced with economic pressures that create a demand for income, camp residents pursue a range of strategies to meet the needs of their households. For those with relatives abroad, remittances are often an important source of support. Others accrue debt, sell rations, compete for limited work opportunities, or engage in riskier activities to supplement aid. Understanding these strategies better is important for future interventions. The research indicates that non-aid resources represent a crucial safety net for camp households, highlighting the need for more systematic and sustainable livelihood solutions.

The policy paper makes the following recommendations:

  • Increase the economic self-reliance of refugee households by working on comprehensive livelihood solutions that are acceptable to host communities
  • Support host communities with vocational training and sustainable livelihood schemes rather than aid
  • Support UN calls for lifting the current internet blackout