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Big Name Brands Visit Rohingya Refugee Camps in Bangladesh

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Representatives from major companies have visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar to explore how private businesses can help the humanitarian response. © Muse Mohammed/IOM

Cox’s Bazar – Representatives from Coca Cola, GAP and Mastercard, along with other big-name brands, have visited Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, with IOM, the UN Migration Agency, to explore how private businesses can help support one of the world’s biggest humanitarian responses and understand how they can be a partner with IOM for the benefit of migrants across the globe. The visit marks the first time IOM has ever invited key representatives of leading companies to explore opportunities within the humanitarian and migration nexus in one of its field operations.

Professionals from the textile, aviation, technology, telecommunications, and financial services industries met with Rohingya refugees and spoke to IOM programme managers in the field, as well as to IOM chiefs over two days, before going on to discuss a range of innovative approaches to ongoing challenges in the camps.

The visit came as part of a three-day event organized jointly by IOM Headquarters and IOM Bangladesh, which began in the capital Dhaka, aimed at developing partnerships with the private sector to end modern slavery and human trafficking by supporting ethical recruitment and fair supply chains. IOM recognizes that businesses are partners and important stakeholders in tacking these challenges.

“The most positive changes arise when people and organisations work together to find solutions,” said Giorgi Gigauri, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Bangladesh.

He added that IOM in Bangladesh supports those who are suffering the ongoing impact of forced migration into the country, as well as Bangladeshi nationals who travel within the country and abroad for education and work opportunities. Both groups, he stressed, are potentially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

“Human trafficking and modern slavery can only be effectively ended when everyone – governments, UN bodies, NGOs, communities and private businesses – unite in their efforts to end these scourges,” said Gigauri.

Almost a million Rohingya are now sheltering in Bangladesh following a massive upsurge in violence in Myanmar last year, which sent over 700,000 people fleeing over the border, creating the world’s largest refugee settlement.

More than a year since the crisis began, the need for innovative solutions to infrastructure and social challenges in the camps and surrounding communities is increasing every day.

Delegates from Turkish Airlines, Korea Telecom and technology group NEC, as well as well-known Bangladeshi firms, including textile leaders DBL Group, along with private sector partnership platforms Innovation Norway and Humanity United, were among those who took part in the visit.

Participants saw first-hand how IOM and its partners are using innovative communications and other technologies to prevent and respond to new emergencies, support critical medical services, and develop durable and effective solutions to shelter, water, sanitation, lighting, access and other critical needs in the camps.

During their visit, delegates witnessed how solar technology is providing street lighting and powering medical clinics, and how remote learning projects supported by IOM are helping children in local villages learn English via live online link-ups with teachers in Dhaka.

The visitors also learned how IOM protection staff are using creative approaches to prevent the rising threat of human trafficking and to tackle gender-based violence.

But they also heard from refugees about the many challenges and difficulties they face. These include not having sufficient warm clothing as the winter season approaches, and the lack of livelihood opportunities, which continues to leave most families entirely reliant on aid.

Following their visit to the camps and conversations with members of the refugee and local communities and IOM staff, the company representatives held a wide-ranging discussion with IOM managers on how to progress.

Potential solutions raised ranged from working with garment sector representative bodies to supply winter clothing to people in the camps, to developing livelihood opportunities that recognize the needs of both local Bangladeshis and the refugee community.

“Information and communications technology has the potential for responding to a variety of issues. We believe that we can contribute in innovative ways to all the goals outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by engaging in dialogues and co-creation with IOM,” said NEC executive Saeki Akari.

During their first day in the country, the private sector representatives discussed broader issues relating to Bangladeshi migrant workers.

In a country of cheap labour costs, Bangladesh’s factories produce garments and other products for world-famous brands, as well as low-end suppliers, and draw workers from rural areas across the country. Meanwhile an estimated 600,000 Bangladeshis travel abroad each year in search of work.

Opportunities for exploitation are rife, and IOM is committed to partnering with leaders in the private sector to develop best practices and innovative ways to end exploitation and abuse of vulnerable workers in Bangladesh and abroad.

In accordance with IOM’s Private Sector Partnership Strategy 2016-2020, IOM has launched a number of initiatives that are intended to provide private sector partners with practical solutions for the implementation of ethical recruitment and fair supply chain practices that help them meet their sustainability benchmarks and make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

“IOM welcomes the support shown by the companies who have joined with us for this visit,” said Gigauri. “ We look forward to working more with the private sector in Bangladesh and beyond, not only to address the challenges faced by migrants, but also to explore how businesses and migrants can work together to benefit each other, the wider economy and society as a whole.”

For more information please contact Fiona MacGregor at IOM Cox’s Bazar. Email: Tel. +88 0 1733 335221.