Background of Research:
Research on refugees’ involvement in cross-border trade is in its infancy. The world has an estimated 26 million registered refugees and 4 million asylum seekers. Many people from conflict-affected settings move to neighboring states, settling in border zones characterised by intense commercial flows and informal cross-border trade. Despite humanitarian assumptions that refugees enter countries of asylum to remain, many use diaspora links to engage in cross-border trade, supporting both their own livelihoods and expanding host-country enterprise. Yet trade in legitimate goods faces many challenges, e.g. weak governance, political tensions, fluctuating border regulations, and arms/drug controls. Refugee cross-border traders are vulnerable to coercion, while the positive impacts of this trade remain unnoticed. Centre for Peace and Justice of Brac University in collaboration with School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University, UK has been implementing a pioneering study on informal cross-border trade in the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. This research has been undertaken as a part of a multi-country study where the other two collaborators are School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University, Uganda; and Universidad Simon Bolivar, Colombia. The research examines case studies in three continents: Bangladesh/Myanmar border, Colombia/Venezuela border, and Uganda/South Sudan border, all low-income countries.
This study will combine both desk-based research findings with primary data and evidence collected through key informant interviews with Rohingya refugee traders in the Cox’s Bazar camps along with relevant stakeholders involved in managing refugee livelihoods, camp management, local business community, journalist and so on. Field exploration will shed lights on the policy and practice implications of refugee involvement in cross-border trade. Hypothesis is that enhancing cross-border trade and mobility rights of refugees is central to their process of self-reliance and social cohesion with the locals, or to facilitating eventual return.
The research aims to explore the scale, scope, and policy and practice implications of refugee involvement in cross-border trade. The case studies examine cross-border trade in countries with large neighboring-country refugee flows. The objectives are to examine for: individual refugees – the scope and challenges of their involvement in cross-border trade; local institutions – the governance and security challenges of the trade; local economies – its diversification and enhancement potential, and for refugee policy – how enhanced refugee trade/mobility rights can support self-reliance and integration.
A qualitative approach will be followed for data collection. Our research team will conduct interviews from two categories of respondents. One category will consist of stakeholders involved in governance, service and intervention, for instance, local NGOs, government officials, host community people, lawyers, journalists and refugee leaders. Such 20+ Key informant interviews will be conducted over telephone as well as by physical meet. The other category includes Rohingya refugees engaged in cross-border trade. Again 20+ extended interviews will be held as they are the community people having good knowledge of the issues and directly or indirectly impacted by the trade. Besides interviews, Peer Research method will also be used in this study where a refugee cross-border trader will record 7-day audio diary.
Phase 1 (Jan-Mar 2021): Set-up, Literature Review and Context Review
Phase 2 (Apr-May 2021): Data Gathering and Analysis
Phase 3 (Jun-Jul 2021): Synthesis and Dissemination
An inception meeting was held in February with all the partner organisations to discuss the objectives and an initial plan. A literature review has been prepared on the local refugee context. The team is currently at the second phase. Necessary research tools for data collection have been developed. A 2-day orientation event for research volunteers on survey data collection was conducted at CPJ field office, Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh from 17th – 18th May 2021. Staff and research volunteers have started collecting data using the field implementation plan. The team is also developing plan for KIIs with stakeholders in Cox’s bazar.
The outcomes will provide better understandings of refugee livelihoods and their contribution to local economies, challenging widespread assumptions about refugee agency and mobility, thus contributing to improved international humanitarian response and local approaches to forced displacement.
Timeline: February, 2021 – July, 2021
Funding Details: Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF)
Muhammad Badiuzzaman, Research Coordinator and Lead Researcher, CPJ, Brac University
Tasnuva Ahmad, Project Officer and Research Assistant, CPJ, Brac University