COX BAZAR, BANGLADESH — Many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh facing diminished income are supplementing their needs with work in the camps. Some have set up new businesses in the refugee zones.
Many Rohingyas arrived in Bangladesh with just the clothes on their back after fleeing a brutal and sudden Myanmar army crackdown.
While aid groups are struggling to provide basic food and shelter, many new arrivals are seeking extra income to make ends meet. They are setting up new businesses in refugee zones.
Twelve-year-old Abul Kazeem got a loan of 75 cents to start his beetle nut business and now makes double that in a day to help buy food for his family of eight.
“We are doing OK in the camp when we can get rice,” he said. “We haven’t got any distribution card. If we sometimes get a distribution card we can get rice with it but we don’t have money for curry. That’s why I am selling the beetle nuts.”
With more than 850,000 mouths to feed in 10 camps, some local businesses are struggling to keep up with the demand.
Many NGOs are partnering up with local food producers so that refugees have access to extra nutritional vegetables — at non-inflated prices.
“The WFP’s always run food shops here for the registered refugees which have a selection of 19 food items and those suppliers are across the country so that we make sure we don’t affect local market prices,” says Shelly Thakral, communication officer of the World Food Program.
But no plan is perfect and some local Bangladeshi businesses, such as chicken producers, are hiking up prices to profit from hungry consumers.
Rohingya worker Mohamid Eitunazu, who worked as a clerk in Myanmar before fleeing with his family, makes a few dollars a day and tries to keep a positive perspective on things.
“I want to open a shophouse to sell goods,” he said. “I want to see the economy grow so I can make money and start my life again. That’s what I wish for. ”
As more Bangladeshi-backed businesses open inside the camps with Rohingya workers getting paid half the normal salary, time will tell who benefits the most.