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Capacity and complementarity in the Rohingya response in Bangladesh

Working papers

Written by Caitlin Wake, John Bryant

Hero image description: An aerial view of Kutupalong Refugee Camp and Camp Extension, Bangladesh. Image credit:UNHCR/Roger Arnold Image license:CC BY-NC-ND

Following the large-scale forced displacement of Rohingya people from Myanmar in 2017, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is now host to over 900,000 Rohingya and the largest and densest refugee settlement in the world. The scale and speed with which the Rohingya fled Myanmar has not been seen since the Rwanda genocide, and Bangladeshi and international stakeholders have been left struggling to address escalating needs. This report explores issues of capacity and complementarity as the response in Bangladesh unfolded in the weeks and months following the arrival of Rohingya refugees in 2017.

While this report focuses on Bangladesh, it explores issues situated within a broader humanitarian policy context, including localisation. While local actors have always played a critical role in humanitarian action and discourse, the World Humanitarian Summit in 2015 and resulting Grand Bargain marked a turning point in which localisation shifted from a focus of discussion to an agreed objective. Central questions associated with the localisation agenda revolve around identifying what capacity is needed to respond to humanitarian crises, who has it, and how international, national and local stakeholders can harness this capacity and work together in complementarity.

In this report, we argue that rather than focusing on technical assessments of capacity and partnership, greater attention should be paid to the factors that enable or undermine capacity in humanitarian response (including funding, perceptions of risk and trust, and politics). The report discusses issues that are part of an evolving debate, with local and international stakeholders still trying to work out what it means to make humanitarian action ‘as local as possible, as international as necessary’ in practice.

Caitlin Wake and John Bryant