Between hardship and hope: The journey of the displaced Rohingya population and their hosts in Bangladesh

This page in:
Nearly 7 years ago, Bangladesh provided shelter to a million displaced Rohingya people. About half of them were children. Close to half a million displaced Rohingya children have taken refuge in Bangladesh, after fleeing violence in Myanmar.

Nearly seven years ago, Bangladesh provided shelter to about a million displaced Rohingya people fleeing violence in Myanmar. About half of them were children. Bangladesh Government’s bold and generous decision saved lives. The Rohingya people took refuge in the Cox’s Bazar District, which was already not faring well, with higher poverty and lower education rates than the rest of the country. The arrival of the Rohingya further strained limited services and resources. 

The Rohingya crisis is protracted. The government has continued to deliver basic assistance and coordinate with various humanitarian agencies, development partners, and local and international non-governmental organizations. But dwindling international assistance is making the future uncertain and calls for a paradigm shift.

A look at the lives of the displaced and the host community

The World Bank’s Cox's Bazar Panel Survey collects data on the socio-economic conditions and access to services of both the local communities and the displaced Rohingya population in Cox's Bazar. This survey interviews the same households regularly. The findings reveal a complex socio-economic situation. Between 2019 and 2023, the socio-economic conditions of the host population (local community) have been improving, notably for education and employment. The socio-economic conditions of the displaced Rohingya people have also improved, yet, their living standards remain poor, underscoring the critical need for continued humanitarian and development assistance, along with increased agency for the displaced Rohingya population. 

A major concern is the education gap. Displaced Rohingya children's school attendance is much lower than that of local children. For example, 94 percent of local children attend primary school compared to 84 percent of displaced Rohingya children. The disparity is even greater for secondary school-age children, with only 39 percent of Rohingya children going to school compared to 73 percent of host community children. Rohingya females have the lowest literacy rates across all age groups. Limited opportunities, waning interest in academics, and social norms hinder education for Rohingya children, especially for girls.

Educational outcomes are improving over time but for the displaced Rohingya population the outcomes still remain low. Educational outcomes are improving over time but for the displaced Rohingya population the outcomes still remain low. Source: CBPS 2019 and 2023

Job prospects for Rohingya are limited because they cannot legally work outside the camps. Since 2019, employment opportunities have improved modestly due to an increase in volunteer work and home-based food production within the camps. Still, 69 percent of Rohingya youth—41 percent for males and 93 percent for females—are neither employed nor in school or in training. This puts the youth at risk of social exclusion, economic dependency, and reduced opportunities for personal and professional development. 

Access to water, sanitation, and hygiene has improved. However, overcrowding is a worsening problem in the congested camps, with five displaced Rohingya sharing one room today compared to three in 2019.  

Food security has improved slightly, but a significant portion of both communities still struggle. In 2023, 11 percent of the host population and 12 percent of the Rohingya faced food insecurity. About half the population in the host community and more than half of the displaced Rohingya people rely on aid or support for food. Decreasing aid support could drive up food insecurity in the camps.

A Complex Relationship Between Hosts and Refugees

The relationship between the host community and Rohingya is complicated.  About three-quarters of local people think that the Rohingya affect their safety, and there is a near-universal consensus among the host community that the displaced Rohingya should be restricted to the camps. But over 10 percent of the local population reported that their families have benefited from the presence of the Rohingya, particularly those with higher education levels. Over 80 percent of the host population support the international community's role in helping the displaced Rohingya. This juxtaposition of self-interest and empathy reflects the complexities of hosting a large, displaced population.

Proximity to camps enhances economic activity, labor market, and health-related outcomes, but also increases deforestation, safety risks, and prevalence of diarrhea. Just being 30 kilometers closer to the camps leads to noticeable changes in the host communities’ perception. The host community closer to the camps feels more responsible towards displaced Rohingyas. 

An Unfinished Agenda

The Cox’s Bazar Panel survey findings indicate that the efforts to improve living conditions in camps and in the local community are paying off, but the needs are still enormous.

The deteriorating security situation in Myanmar has further complicated the situation. The Rohingya crisis has no easy solutions, but it requires both international support as well as improved agency for the displaced Rohingya. The recent World Development Report on “Migrants, Refugees, and Societies” highlights the responsibility of hosting refugees a global public good, and describes the roles of host countries and the international community.

Given dwindling donor support in protracted refugee situations, improving economic opportunities and putting refugees on a path of self-reliance can both improve the quality of their lives and reduce the costs of hosting.

Immediately after the influx of displaced Rohingya into Bangladesh, the World Bank mobilized $590 million in grants with additional support from Canada, and this week the World Bank’s Board has approved the next phase of support of $700 million for two projects to help meet the needs of both the displaced Rohingya population and the host communities in the Chattogram Division. Bangladesh will receive grants, not loans, for the displaced Rohingya population. 

The survey findings highlight areas where intervention is crucial, and new World Bank financing is a step in the right direction to support self-reliance among the Rohingya by upgrading their skills, livelihoods, health, and infrastructure. But more support is needed.

As the focus of support shifts to promoting greater agency for the Rohingya, the international community must also step up its support for development approaches that focus on economic opportunities for the displaced Rohingya and at the same time support the host communities.

Abdoulaye Seck

Country Director, Bangladesh and Bhutan

Ximena Del Carpio

Practice Manager, World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000