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Special feature: Humanitarian Exchange Magazine No. 73 - Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: the humanitarian response

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Advancing a collective model for communication and community engagement: lessons from the Rohingya response

by Margie Buchanan-Smith and Marian Casey-Maslen

The response to the Rohingya refugee crisis poses particular communication and engagement challenges. Literacy levels among the Rohingya are low and there is no standardised or internationally recognised written script for their language. Refugees have limited access to radios and are officially banned from owning SIM cards for Bangladeshi mobile phone networks. Language barriers and cultural norms restrict access to women, and unelected male local leaders in the camps (the mahjee) act as powerful gatekeepers. Religious leaders are also influential. The host community is easier to access as most Bangladeshis possess mobile phones and are highly reliant on this information channel. All of this has significant implications for how humanitarian agencies engage with affected and host populations. One aid worker experienced in communication and community engagement described it as the most challenging environment for communication they had encountered.

This article draws on the findings of a real-time evaluation of coordination of communication with communities in the Rohingya response. The evaluation was commissioned by the Communication and Community Engagement Initiative convened by the CDAC Network. It was undertaken by independent consultants Margie Buchanan-Smith and Shahidul Islam. The full report can be found at www.cdacnetwork.org.

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