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Table of Contents
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 169-173

Exploring host community attitudes towards Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

1 MS, Clinical Psychologist, Regional Trauma Counseling Centre, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Government of Bangladesh, Bangladesh
2 MSc, MPhil, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Date of Submission20-May-2019
Date of Decision27-Sep-2019
Date of Acceptance06-Oct-2019
Date of Web Publication29-Nov-2019

Correspondence Address:
Muhammad Kamruzzaman Mozumder
Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka, Dhaka-1000
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/INTV.INTV_27_19

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Acceptance and assistance from the host community is crucial to ensure support for refugee populations. This article explores attitudes of the host community about Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. In total, 202 respondents from Ukhiya in Cox’s Bazar participated in a questionnaire survey about their attitudes towards Rohingya refugees. Respondents from the host community demonstrated mixed attitudes. This article discusses these attitudes and their likely future impacts on the two populations. Findings may contribute to planning strategies towards preventing conflict escalation and increasing integration in the provision of assistance to the Rohingya in Bangladesh.
Key implications for practice

  • The findings provide a baseline on host community attitudes and beliefs regarding the refugees, which may prove useful in tracking and understanding changes over time.
  • It orients the readers to the need to consider a host community perspective in providing refugee care.
  • This article calls for action to improve host–refugee relationships to avert possible conflict.

Keywords: attitudes, host community, refugee, Rohingya

How to cite this article:
Jerin MI, Mozumder MK. Exploring host community attitudes towards Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Intervention 2019;17:169-73

How to cite this URL:
Jerin MI, Mozumder MK. Exploring host community attitudes towards Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Intervention [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Jun 3];17:169-73. Available from: http://www.interventionjournal.org//text.asp?2019/17/2/169/271885

  Introduction Top

One of the major concerns in any humanitarian crisis context is the gap between needs and resources. The case of Cox’s Bazar is no different; pressure on limited local resources is increasing every day. The influx of Rohingya is adversely affecting the livelihood of the host community due to deforestation, inflation and competition over opportunities (see Khatun & Kamruzzaman, 2018; Tay et al., 2018). The Joint Response Plan 2019 also reported the impact of the presence of Rohingya on the host community and added further that 335,900 people in the host community are in need of humanitarian assistance (Strategic Executive Group, 2019). Although national and international humanitarian agencies are providing services and creating opportunities for the local population along with the Rohingya, resources appear relatively scarce compared to the scale of needs. In seeking to meet the needs of the refugee population, the concerns of host communities may have been ignored or overlooked.

The Ukhiya region of Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh received the major portion of the Rohingya refugees. It is hosting several unregistered makeshift camps, registered camps and extension camps for the Rohingya refugees. The habitants of Ukhiya observed an almost four-fold increase in total population due to the recent Rohingya influx. With this increase, the host community of Ukhiya has become a minority amongst the Rohingya refugees who form an estimated 76% of the total population in Ukhiya (see ACAPS/NPM Analysis Hub, 2018). The host community and Rohingya refugee are living in close proximity. They interact with each other every day.

Anecdotal reports about these interactions indicate small-scale conflicts involving both the adults and children of the two communities. Incidents of tension and violence in the evolving social dynamics between the host and Rohingya communities involving collection of firewood, distribution of support, water and rumours have also been reported (ACAPS/NPM Analysis Hub, 2018; Strategic Executive Group, 2019). A thorough understanding of the reasons that conflicts occur is essential for ensuring peaceful coexistence and sustainable refugee care in the region. This study therefore focuses on the exploration of the perceptions, beliefs and attitudes of the host community towards the displaced Rohingya community. This draws on the work by Greenberger and Padesky (1995), in relation to the cognitive factors that influence our interaction with others.

Negative consequences associated in social interaction between the host and the refugee communities are well-documented (Chemali et al., 2017; Crisp, 2003; Grindheim, 2013; Whitaker, 1999). The sources of conflict are usually multiple in number and complex in nature. However, the role of attitudes and beliefs in all forms of conflicts has been acknowledged in the literature (see Galinsky, 2002; Schaller & Neuberg, 2008). Additionally, negativism from one side always has the potential to cause a reciprocal response from the other side. Therefore, it is expected that knowing the perception and attitudes of the host community can be useful in preventing adverse consequences as well as in promoting integration between the two communities.

Confirmatory research findings testing the interplay between attitude, prejudice, discrimination and other psychological variables in the context of refugee and host community relations are widely available in the literature (Cowling, Anderson, & Ferguson, 2019; Schweitzer, Perkoulidis, Krome, Ludlow, & Ryan, 2005). However, studies exploring descriptive details regarding attitudes, beliefs and perceptions towards refugees are generally very limited and this is especially true for the case of the Rohingya refugees. To address this gap, we conducted the present study during February–March 2018, approximately four months after the major Rohingya influx into the community. A few months later (in June–July 2018), a large-scale survey exploring perception and experience of the host community regarding the Rohingya population was conducted by Xchange Foundation (2018). Participants were found feeling unsafe (85%) about the Rohingya residing nearby, reluctant (85%) to allow the Rohingya children to go to the same school used by their children and prohibitive (48%) regarding the Rohingya accessing local facilities (Xchange Foundation, 2018).

A more recent assessment in April 2019 indicated more positive attitudes from host communities compared to data from July 2018 and October 2018. However, it also warned about deterioration of relations if the situation became protracted (Ground Truth Solutions, 2019).

The study presented here was aimed at exploring further and understanding the general attitudes and perceptions of the host community towards the Rohingya population.

  Method Top

This study used a questionnaire survey design. In total, 202 individuals from the host community were selected using incidental sampling. In this method, the data collectors met prospective participants incidentally in the community and approached them to check if they were local to the region before they invited them to participate. The majority of the participants was living near the refugee camps at Ukhiya (139) and the others were from Cox’s Bazar (63). The planned sample size was 200 with an expected margin of error at 0.07, which seemed suitable in size. Males and females were represented almost equally. The average age of the participants was 32.41 (SD 12.47). The educational level of the participants ranged from illiterate to graduate. Details of the participants’ demographic characteristics are presented in [Table 1].
Table 1 Demographic characteristics of the participants

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The participants responded to a questionnaire which was comprised of items to assess attitude and beliefs regarding Rohingya refugees and the perceived impact of their presence. The belief and attitude part of the questionnaire was developed from contextual knowledge of the researchers coupled with a review of items used by other researchers (Pehrson, Vignoles, & Brown, 2009; Schweitzer et al., 2005; Wagner, Christ, Pettigrew, Stellmacher, & Wolf, 2006). The impact of refugee part of the questionnaire was mostly developed from informal discussion with colleagues working in the context and individuals from the host community. The attitude and belief section was presented with four-point Likert-type response options (completely, to some extent, little and not at all) while the impact section was presented with dichotomous response options (yes and no). The items were prepared based on prevailing ideas in the host community regarding the Rohingya population.

Data were collected by two research assistants recruited from the host community who were also working with the refugee population as psychosocial counsellors. They were provided with detailed training on data collection and ethical considerations for the study. The participants were provided with a detailed description of the study procedures and purposes using verbal as well as written explanatory statements. Data were collected through one-to-one interviews with the participants after receiving informed consent from them. The study received ethics approval from the ethical review committee of the Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Dhaka, prior to initiation.

  Results Top

Descriptive analyses of the data were carried out using predictive analytics software (PASW) (SPSS Inc., 2009). Findings on beliefs and attitudes towards the Rohingya refugees among host community participants are presented in [Table 2]. This section presents the percentage of participants’ responses in four different categories along with the percentage of no-response (i.e., missing) on each item. The participants responding towards the extreme ends of the options (completely or not at all) in most items indicate clear positioning of their opinion to the questions.
Table 2 Beliefs and attitudes towards the Rohingya community

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The participants were also presented items on perceived impact of the Rohingya refugee using dichotomous (yes − no) response options. Their opinions were much more clearly visible in this format (see [Table 3]).
Table 3 Perceived impact of the Rohingya refugee on the host community

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  Discussion Top

Descriptive findings on beliefs and attitudes towards Rohingya refugees indicate the presence of a mixture of positive and negative attitudes in the host community. Although much higher portions of the respondents reported negative beliefs and attitudes, a percentage of response indicating positive beliefs and attitudes was also noted. Most noteworthy was the openness to extend adequate medical care for the Rohingya. A very high proportion (71.8%) of the participants perceived that the presence of the Rohingya has created opportunities for the host community. Perception of the refugee communities as an opportunity has been indicated to be useful in sustainable refugee care in international contexts (see Whitaker, 1999). If utilised, this perspective can contribute towards peaceful co-existence and prevention of disturbances between the two communities. The host community also demonstrated openness to acknowledge negativism of their own community, as 33.2% agreed that many Bangladeshis are utilising the opportunities of the Rohingya crisis.

Common to many intergroup situations, the host community largely (67.8%) perceived the Rohingya moralities and values to be incompatible with their own. Such form of differentiation can cause ‘othering’ of refugees which, in the long run, often acts as a basis for discrimination towards them (Pittaway & Bartolomei, 2001). Ascribing negative attributes towards the refugee population is a common phenomenon. More than half of the participants believed that the Rohingya became refugees due to their own fault. They also perceived the Rohingya as ungrateful (66.8%) to the host community.

A very high portion (72.3%) of the participants asserted that they disagreed with the statement that the Rohingya are not causing any disturbance to the life and living of the host community. Similar to other refugee contexts (see Crisp, 2003), the Bangladeshi host community perceived that the Rohingya are creating many problems, including security threat (64.9%), social problems (65.3%) and environmental imbalances (69.8%) and that they are a burden (76.7%) to Bangladesh. This is commonly observed in other refugee contexts as well (Wike, Stokes, & Simmons, 2016). A large proportion of the respondents believed that the presence of Rohingya had affected them (71.8%) and the country (84.2%), while almost all of them (96%) believed that a long stay by the Rohingya would be problematic. They (96.5%) perceived the future risk associated with long stay and reported that the Rohingya should be deported as soon as possible (85.1%). More than half of the participants reported that they are afraid of the Rohingya people. This fear has the potential to contribute towards developing negative attitudes towards the Rohingya (Murray & Marx, 2013). Similar to this, 85% of the respondents from a recent survey in Cox’s Bazar reported that they do not feel safe having a Rohingya community nearby (Xchange Foundation, 2018). Such high amount of negativism in the host community may be indicative of the possibility that the Rohingya are not welcomed and may have to face more adverse forms of resistance and hostility from the host community in the near future. Based on previous experience (see Kiragu, Rosi, & Morris, 2011), imminent repatriation is not likely and the Rohingya may need to stay in Bangladesh for quite some time. Supportive attitudes from the host community would be crucial in this period to ensure peaceful co-existence of the two populations.

There is a perceived sense of deprivation of opportunities (62.8%) in the host community. The host community perceives that the government and the non-government organisations are giving too much attention to the Rohingya (73.6%) and more than half of them believe that the Rohingya are getting more than what they need. Moreover, a large (82.7%) portion of the participants believes that the Rohingya do not deserve the kind of support they are receiving. Aukot (2003) elaborately describes hosts’ grievances resulting from perceived inequalities of treatment in resource-constrained settings where refugees receive free shelter, firewood, food and health care, while the hosts do not. Tension in host communities arising from the perceived preferential treatment of refugees has also been discussed by other researchers (Milner & Loescher, 2011). The possibility of a social, economic and psychological imbalance as suggested by Aukot (2003) cannot be eliminated for Cox’s Bazar context.

Interestingly, however, half of the participants wanted the local people to support the Rohingya population (see [Table 3]), which may serve as a protective factor to prevent conflict. Many organisations working in Cox’s Bazar have introduced strategies to minimise the risk of divisions occurring. These include recruiting support staff from the host community and procuring goods produced by the host community. Apart from projects addressing the needs of both the communities, there are also programmes and projects specifically designed to address the needs of the host community. These proactive strategies are likely to benefit both of the communities and thus contribute to perception of possible peaceful co-existence until the time of repatriation.

Merheb and Loughna (2005) have suggested several strategies to address refugee–host relationships which include improving infrastructure for both communities, inclusion of themes of co-existence and respect for human rights in communication strategies and facilitating communication between local authorities and refugee representatives. While the first strategy, that is, improving infrastructure for both communities are already being utilised by INGOs, NGOs and government, further work is needed to address the others. Lack of information and impaired communication are often a major factor in the perception of threat. Access to information and increased communication are therefore expected to improve the relation between the refugee and host communities.

  Limitations Top

This study represents a snapshot of host community attitudes and perceptions. Representative sampling was not used and there is, therefore, the possibility of unintentional bias in participant selection. Findings cannot be generalised and caution should be taken in interpreting and utilising the findings.

  Conclusion Top

The findings raised several attitudinal concerns regarding the future of host–refugee relationships and social interaction in Bangladesh. Failure to address these concerns may lead to widespread disturbance and even serious conflicts between the two communities. Such ramifications have been observed in other international crisis contexts. While anecdotal reports are already indicating small-scale representation of host–Rohingya conflict in Cox’s Bazar region, published documents also revealed increasing tension and violence among the two communities. Similarities with findings from studies conducted in other countries indicate the pertinence of these concerns across different refugee contexts. Consideration of these concerns in planning refugee care may prove useful in the end towards sustainable service development.

Refugee–host relationships are a sensitive matter from multiple perspectives including survival, economic, moral, as well as sociopolitical. Inability to appreciate its sensitivity and failure to address this in a timely manner may be detrimental to both communities. Different strategies, which have been tested and found effective in improving intergroup relationship across the world might be useful in this connection. Interventions such as intergroup dialogue (see Dessel & Rogge, 2008), use of media (Paluck, 2009) and intergroup contact (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006) have demonstrated encouraging outcomes and can be considered for use in Cox’s Bazar.


We would like to thank our two research assistants, Mimaya and Fatema who painstakingly collected the data, often in difficult conditions, from participants in the community.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


  References Top

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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]

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