Bangladesh Rohingya refugee crisis 2017-2019

In late 2017, Bangladesh rapidly became home to the world’s largest population of displaced people, as over 700,000 people from Myanmar’s Rakhine state fled to Bangladesh after an escalation of violence. By the end of 2018, more than 900,000 people from the Rohingya community were living in 34 camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, including families who arrived before the 2017 influx.


From the beginning of the unfolding emergency in November 2017, BBC Media Action took a leading role in ensuring that Rohingya people in refugee camps had access to information, and that humanitarian agencies and government actors listened to their needs and concerns.

BBC Media Action carried out a variety of projects with different partners and donors to support Rohingya people living in refugee camps. These included:

  • Mentoring two local radio stations, Bangladesh Betar (part of the state broadcaster) and Radio Naf (a community radio station that reached the camps) to produce weekly Lifeline programmes. This project was funded by Unicef and began in November 2017. Since then, these programmes have been broadcast to Rohingya audiences four times a week.
  • The Common Service for Community Engagement and Accountability project, funded at different stages by the UK Department for International Development, International Organization for Migration and ECHO (European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations). BBC Media Action worked with Internews and Translators without Borders to help humanitarian agencies communicate with Rohingya communities more effectively through diverse activities including staff training, creating audio-visual content, tracking rumours in the camps, and a weekly bulletin to communicate community needs and priorities to agencies.
  • Helping to establish and run information centres in the camps, in collaboration with Action Against Hunger.
  • Developing a radio drama tackling gender-based violence issues such as child marriage and intimate partner violence, funded by Norwegian Church Aid and International Organization for Migration.

This case study predominantly focuses on the Lifeline radio programming support funded by Unicef, which has been most robustly evaluated at audience level.


In line with BBC Media Action’s goals relating to this humanitarian emergency, both Lifeline radio programmes Begunnor Lai (on Bangladesh Betar) and Shishur Hashi (on Radio Naf) aimed to provide Rohingya people with critical information to help keep themselves and their families safe, healthy and informed.


Rapid audience feedback exercises were conducted every couple of months to ensure the programmes were engaging, culturally appropriate and met the needs of Rohingya listeners in the camps. These involved in-depth interviews with listeners recruited from listener groups. Production teams used this feedback to make the programmes more relevant to listeners.

Qualitative evaluations involving Begunnor Lai and Shishur Hashi audience members took place in March and December 2018. BBC Media Action researchers, along with local Chittagonian-speaking interpreters, conducted in-depth interviews with some home listeners and listener group members.

A July 2018 quantitative research study as part of the Common Service project measured the radio programmes’ reach among Rohingya people in the camps. As part of other projects, BBC Media Action carried out extensive research to understand more about Rohingya communities’ needs and priorities, as well as their lives and traditions before arriving in Bangladesh. This was to inform BBC Media Action’s programmes, like the Lifeline programmes and the radio drama, and to help humanitarian agencies understand more about the community so they could design appropriate programmes to serve their needs.




Platform – Rohingya refugees’ access to radio was a significant challenge throughout this project. A quantitative study carried out by BBC Media Action in July 2018 found that only 13% of people said someone in their household had listened to the radio in the preceding week. The same study found that 11% of the Rohingya community had listened to Begunnor Lai and 7% had listened to Shishur Hashi. A November 2018 study by Translators without Borders found that radio listenership had increased to 18% following the distribution of 57,000 radios in refugee camps.

In order to increase access to its programming, BBC Media Action set up over 300 listener groups in 21 refugee camps and provided audio content to other NGOs to share in their community-based activities. Qualitative research found that people appreciated the opportunity to discuss and ask questions at these groups. Initial rapid audience feedback found that women were struggling to access listener groups as they were not allowed to leave their homes. Women-only listener groups were set up within residential blocks so they could attend.

Despite these challenges, research participants universally said they shared the information they learned from the programmes with their friends and relatives, suggesting that the programmes’ content spread through the Rohingya refugee community even if their immediate audience was limited.

The July study found that people’s access to information had increased. Nine months into the emergency, 84% of respondents said they had enough information to make good decisions for themselves and their families compared with 23% in a similar study conducted by Internews at the beginning of the emergency. This was likely as a result of multiple initiatives. For example, the July study found that 21% of Rohingya people had visited one of the information hubs, and 26% of people had seen some of the informative audio-visual content.

Content – Due to Bangladeshi government restrictions, the radio programmes had to be broadcast in Chittagonian (the local dialect of Cox’s Bazar), which is similar to the Rohingya language. Listeners repeatedly said they understood the programmes, and they especially mentioned the female presenter of Begunnor Lai, who had learned which Chittagonian words were most similar to the Rohingya language and consciously made the content easier for Rohingya people to understand.

Listeners found the programmes’ content relevant, and their advice practical and useful. They valued the programmes as they learned practical information about how to keep themselves and their families safe.


Listeners were engaged with the programmes as they felt they were made for them, in a language they could understand. They enjoyed hearing Rohingya voices on the radio and hearing Rohingya songs. They recognised that the programmes covered different topics each episode, depending on what the community needed, which kept people engaged.

Having both men’s and women’s voices helped to engage people with the show. Women said they liked hearing women’s voices on the programmes, alongside male voices, and appreciated the female presenters asking questions about issues that particularly affected women. Some said they felt the female presenters helped them understand key issues in a way that men could not.

I like to listen to the voices of men, but I like to listen to the women in the show more. This is because women are speaking about their problems by themselves and so are the men. Both Rohingya women and village women speak in the show and I like that.

Female listener group member, Teknaf, Bangladesh



Listeners trusted the information in both programmes because they found it to be consistent with information from other sources, and many listeners said they had followed some of the advice and found that it worked. The fact that listeners felt the programmes were made for their benefit also contributed to this trust.

I can see that those who don’t follow the good advice have fallen sick. And those who follow or trust this information are living a healthy life. So I trust all the information.

Male Begunnor Lai and Shishur Hashi listener, Kutupalong , Bangladesh


Knowledge and discussion

The programmes made for Rohingya refugees by BBC Media Action’s partners both reinforced listeners’ existing knowledge and taught them many new things. Listeners recalled many topics covered by the shows, but particularly seemed to retain and share information on how to prevent disease through hygiene. They appreciated advice they could implement at home, such as handwashing and purifying water, which they felt helped to keep their families safe.

While some information was totally new to them, listeners said the way the presenters shared information clarified some concepts they previously struggled to understand.

We didn’t listen to this in Burma [Myanmar]. We heard the show and later, many benefits came. Before we didn’t cover our water pots, and flies and mosquitos came on them and we used to drink that water. Then we ate stale food and used to get sick. Now we don’t drink uncovered water. We don’t have stale food any more.

Male Begunnor Lai listener, Teknaf , Bangladesh

All research participants said they shared what they had learned with family members and neighbours, especially on hygiene and cleanliness, and there were many examples of participants encouraging others to take action. Female participants shared information at women-friendly spaces, and one man said he talked about the programme at the tea shop.

I tell everybody to listen to this show, I tell them to go near the radio at 11:30am and if they have no radio then go to someone else’s radio and listen to this. It is more important than what I will tell you.

Male listener, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh

Motivation and actions

Listeners of both programmes said they felt motivated to take action as a result, particularly in keeping their area and their children clean. Most research participants said they now systematically wash their hands after using the toilet and before cooking, and that they try to make sure their children and other family members do so too. Many also gave concrete examples of non-hygiene actions they had taken as a result of information from the programmes, such as making a saline solution to treat diarrhoea at home, or taking better care of pregnant women.

Listeners highlighted the importance of accurate information about where to find resources or access help. They noted instances when a programme had mentioned water purification tablets or sanitary towels, but not where listeners could access these items, preventing them from taking action.

Before, if a child got diarrhoea we would think that it is a very serious disease and would take him/her to a traditional healer but the child would die on the way. After learning about how to cure diarrhoea, we can now feed the children appropriately.

Female listener, Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh



I have learned from [the programme] that, inside my wife, my child is growing so I should take care of her. I shouldn’t pressure her to do any kind of heavy work and after childbirth, we should look after that newborn. Specifically, we need to protect him/her from the warm and cold. If he/she starts sweating during the warm season, that can cause a sore throat and runny nose. We also learned what a mother should eat [well to be able] to feed her child properly.

Male listener group member, Balukhali camp, Bangladesh

Connecting people and giving them a voice

Listeners felt connected with others through the programmes. They liked to hear the voices of other Rohingya people, particularly those living in other camps, and learn how they were coping with similar challenges.

They also appreciated the phone-in session in Begunnor Lai, but it was not clear how accessible this option was to all listeners, particularly to women who are less likely to have access to a phone. Almost all research participants said they would ask a question on the programme if they had the opportunity, but only two male participants said they had done so.

In the show, Rohingya people are asked questions and I like to hear their voices. I like it because I am able to hear about their problems and their queries. I also like how I can get news from camps like those in Kutupalong, Balukhali. I can learn how they are living too.

Female Listen Again listener, Teknaf , Bangladesh


There was evidence to suggest that both programmes have played a role in improving people’s emotional well-being. Many research participants mentioned feeling happier as a result of listening to the programmes, as a result of hearing Rohingya voices or Rohingya songs. They also mentioned that the programmes made them smile, improved their mood and helped to reduce their pain.

If I don’t listen to the programme, I don’t feel at peace. But after listening to the show I feel peaceful.

Female Listen Again listener, Teknaf , Bangladesh

Evaluation methods used include a quantitative survey in June 2018 and continual qualitative evaluations. This project is ongoing and further evaluation is being conducted in 2019.