Rent-seeking between local business people and Rohingya 

Amin is a native of Ukhia who explained camp market dynamics: “There is one local council member who has a lease on the forest land in this area of the camps, Lambashia. There is a tender that has to be renewed with the government yearly. Rohingya pay the councilmember to run small shops in the camp market, which sits on this land. Payments are then made to the CiC and higher district-level officials.”

The councilmember has assistants who go around the camp market to collect rent payments from Rohingya shopkeepers, and camp authorities close down the shops of those who neglect to pay. The monthly charge is 500 to 2,000 taka (5-23 USD), paid to the councilmember by hundreds of shopkeepers from across the Lambashia area of the camp. The Rohingya shopkeepers also have to pay off the police and other security officials, about 100 taka (1.2 USD) to each agency. Because of the Rohingya shopkeepers having to pay off so many people, Amin says, prices are much higher in the camp markets than elsewhere in the area. Other local elite also own land across the camps, and collect payments in a similar manner. Similarly to shopkeepers, NGOs pay for the right to run facilities on the land. 

Amin says that Rohingya camp leaders have both fear and respect for the councilmember who owns the area. According to Amin, the man “has married a few Rohingya women, I think two or three or more of them.” In addition the market stalls, most of the buildings around Kutupalong Market also belong to either the councilmember or his brother. 

Tracing the supply chain of goods sold in the camps

A lot of the products sold here come from this region and the north of Bangladesh. Bangladesh also imports many produce items. For example, Bangladesh traditionally imports a large quantity of onions from India, but due to a trade dispute India recently stopped sending them, and Bangladesh increasingly gets its onions from Pakistan, and sometimes from further afar, such as Egypt.

Amin says that many cows are imported to Cox’s Bazar from Myanmar, mostly Rakine State. Most come legally through the Teknaf port along the Naf River border dividing Myanmar and Bangladesh. Some also come through informal channels. After the 2017 crisis, Amin says, Rohingya people’s cows and rice harvests were sold to Bangladesh by Rakhine people who stole them during the conflict.

The new road that connects Myanmar and Bangladesh by land, also known as the “China Road,” is also used to bring Myanmar products. Rohingya participate in this trade by bribing border guard police. But most of the Myanmar products are brought to Cox’s Bazar after coming through the Bandarbans area in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which also borders Myanmar.