SBC for the Rohingya Refugees

Learn about the Rohingya refugee crisis,

and find out how SBC can help


Need some background information on the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority who practice a Sufi-inflected variation of Sunni Islam. A majority of the estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar reside in Rakhine State, where they account for nearly a third of the population. They differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically and religiously.

For nearly four months, since August 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have streamed into Bangladeshi refugee camps from neighboring Myanmar, where members of this Muslim minority are being forced from their homes. The mass exodus began on August 25, when a militant Rohingya group attacked a series of military outposts, prompting a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military in retaliation. Most live in an area over the border in Bangladesh called "Cox's Bazaar."

Multiple eyewitness reports confirm that Rohingya were being shot at as they attempted to enter Bangladesh. The Myanmar militants use rape as a weapon against the Rohingya people.

Once in the refugee camp, the Rohingya receive at most a tent and a blanket but often go without food, water, or hygiene facilities. There is little medical care, and fears of widespread disease are very real. There are, as of November 2017, over 820,000 Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazaar and this number increases daily. All are living on an empty plot of wetlands and will remain there for the foreseeable future. The conditions are extremely difficult, made more so by the monsoon rains. 

What makes communication even more difficult is that Rohingya is an oral language with no standardized written script. This adds to the challenges of creating effective written materials (posters, signs, pamphlets) in a language familiar to the community.  

With all of these serious challenges, it is critical that social and behavior communication (SBC) strategies are developed in order to:

  • Increase awareness among rape victims about their reproductive health
  • Keep refugees aware of basic hygiene practices
  • Teach them to look for signs of disease in family members
  • Make them aware of basic nutrition needs
  • Help frontline workers to get up to speed quickly to help the refugees and prevent breakouts of disease

On this page, we share with you some basic, background information on the crisis as well as articles about eyewitness accounts and SBC efforts thus far. If you have materials to share with us, please send them to the Health COMpass Curator, Susan Leibtag,


How did the crisis begin, and what's happened over the past few months?

It's vital that SBC efforts begin with a deep understanding of the history of this situation.

How do we know what information the refugees need? 

That's a central question - before SBC efforts start, there is a need to know what the audience's priorities are.  This is an initial needs assessment via Internews about the kind of information the refugees need, and how to get it to them.  

  • Information Needs Assessment - Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, Internews - This assessment, conducted in late October 2017, examines the information ecosystem facing the area’s crisis-affected population

Who's been doing SBC work on the ground?  What have they done?  What have they seen?

Yes, many groups have been on the ground in Bangladesh trying to help. Read about their experiences, challenges and successes.

Can we hear from the refugees themselves?

Listen to the voices of the people suffering in Bangladesh, hear their stories to understand the true depth of this tragedy.

What about journal articles?

It's helpful to read what the experts have to say about this particular situation - here are a few articles - one is about the Rohingya, and the others refer to refugee situations more generally.

What official statements have the governments made? International agencies?  

Many governments and international agencies have made public statements condemning the Myanmar military for their treatment of the Rohingya - we should be familiar with them.

Who's blogging about the situation?

Blogs are a great way for people inside, and outside, the actual crisis to convey important information, reactions, and news.  Here are a few examples.

Can you list some good tools for SBC work in these settings? 

SBC professionals need to prepare ahead of time with tools for disaster situations - this is why so many groups have developed strategies and plans for emergency communication.  See below for a few great ones.

SBC Tools Specifically for Refugee and Emergency Settings

Working in Low Literacy Settings