Transferring remittances through trust-based networks

Yassir hails from a family of seven sons and two daughters. Two of Yassir’s brothers are in Malaysia and one sister remains in Myanmar. The rest of the family live in the camps, and depend partially on remittances sent by the brothers in Malaysia

Many people in the camp receive some amount of remittance, with most coming from either Malaysia or Saudi Arabia. Yassir says that people “really depend” on remittances, and that they constitute the main source of income for many families. 

Yassir estimates that the actual cost of having a decent life and nutrition level in camp is about 200 dollars per month, or 15,000 Bangladeshi taka. Despite receiving rations, people are not satisfied with the quality and type of food, and want to buy additional items, such as fish, which costs at least 300 to 500 taka (3.5-5.8 USD) per kilogram.

The experiences of two brothers in Malaysia

Yassir’s two brothers in Malaysia each earn about 2,000 Malaysian ringgit per month (480 USD), one as a construction captain overseeing a team of 15 laborers, and one as a worker in a teashop. The brothers’ cost of living in Malaysia is about 1,000 ringgit per month and they send the rest to their parents and siblings in the camps. Yassir says they do this gladly, knowing that their contribution supports the many members of the large family. 

Of the two brothers in Malaysia, the elder obtained a 9th grade education in Myanmar. He went to Malaysia in 2012 by flight. The younger brother followed him in 2015, traveling by boat. After sailing five days to Thailand, he then traveled to Malaysia by land. Upon arriving at the Thailand-Malaysia border, Yassir’s family had to pay 1,500,000 Myanmar kyats (1,140 USD) to a trafficker before crossing. Yassir recalls how worried his family was during the young man’s journey, as they didn’t have any contact with him. Fortunately, he arrived safely.

Yassir’s elder brother in Malaysia doesn’t want to come back to Bangladesh to rejoin the family because he has a good job and has gotten married since arriving. But his younger brother misses the family. Despite his relatively sound employment and living conditions in Malaysia, he sometimes thinks of looking for a way to travel to Bangladesh and join his parents and siblings in the camps. He worries that if the rest of the family were to repatriate to Myanmar, he would have no way to rejoin them there in the future. 

Attempting to stay in touch with a sister in Myanmar

Yassir’s sister in Myanmar stayed there when the rest of the family fled because she was already married and living in her husband’s village. Due to internet restrictions in Myanmar as well as in the camps, Yassir says it has been quite difficult to stay in contact with her. People can use a Myanmar SIM card from certain parts of the camps, but these are difficult to come by. 

A young man navigates his aspirations and his mother’s wishes

Yassir says his mother regrets sending her two sons to Malaysia, and has become protective of her remaining children. When he first arrived at the camps, Yassir told his mother he wanted to make his way to Malaysia as well, but she objected, and began trying to quickly arrange his marriage as a way to ensure he stayed nearby. 

Yassir had mixed feelings about this, as he wanted to finish his studies and pursue higher education.  As a self-taught computer skills trainer and fluent English speaker, Yassir once applied for some scholarships available to Rohingya in third countries and was working on procuring a Bangladesh passport that would enable him to travel should a study opportunity arise. So at first, he was upset when his mother stopped him. He did persuade her to allow him to go to Chittagong for a short web design course, which was paid for by his brothers in Malaysia. It was a good experience, Yassir says. But he was unable to complete the course because his mother called him back, having successfully arranged his marriage. As an obedient son, he complied despite his regrets at forfeiting his studies.

His marriage made his mother confident that he wouldn’t leave camp, but Yassir thinks she was also motivated to arrange it because her only daughter remaining in the family shelter is only 12, and without any daughters-in-law nearby, she needed someone to help her with housework. Yassir says his new wife and mother get along well, and that his mother has been teaching his wife everything she knows about cooking and housework. Yassir says he had “no choice” when it came to selecting a wife, a cousin by marriage who he has known since childhood. 

Yassir says he is at peace with his lack of higher education access, as he was honored to fulfill his familial duties by marrying. He observes that most people who have departed from the camps have done so either to pursue livelihood or educational opportunities, such as a friend studying at a Bangladesh university who will graduate this year and plans to travel onward to Malaysia afterward to pursue further studies.