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Local Data Collection Among Rohingya Refugees

Jackie Lacroix | Manager of Data and Insights

Following the escalation of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar in August 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fled across the border into Bangladesh. According to the UN, as of June 2018, there are close to one million Rohingya refugees present in the southern Cox’s Bazar District of Bangladesh. While international organizations and state governments undertake efforts to return refugees to their home regions in Myanmar, the refugee communities continue to face instability and threats in the form of violence and natural disasters, particularly during Bangladesh’s June to October monsoon season. For example, on June 11, at least 12 refugees were killed by landslides in the Naniarchar area of Rangamati District and in Cox’s Bazar. Hundreds of shelters in the camps have been destroyed by flooding and landslides.

Amidst these ongoing challenges, a group of Rohingya refugees living in Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar has been working to collect detailed data on the identities and numbers of individuals killed in the violence led by security forces in Myanmar. This is no small task—the infrastructure and environmental challenges in the camps, language differences, and organizational problems led to several months of data collection and several versions of the most recent list of names. As recounted by a Reuters reporter, “The handwritten lists were compiled by volunteers, photocopied, and passed from person to person. The list makers asked questions in Rohingya about villages whose official names were Burmese, and then recorded the information in English.”

Despite these challenges, the value of such locally collected data is invaluable; no other group or organization has come close to compiling a comparable list. The Rohingya refugees conducting their own data collection benefit from a personal knowledge of the refugee camps and the region in Myanmar where the violence occurred. It’s possible that the data collectors could be accused of bias, but their estimates are based on information provided by families and neighbors of the dead and missing. Along with specific names, they are documenting the addresses of the victims, the date and cause of death, and other metadata—creating an audit trail that can potentially be independently authenticated in the future.

Collecting and recording local data related to violence and instability is vitally important to human rights organizations and to companies such as groundTruth Global, where we are working to collect on-the-ground information to improve responses to and mitigation of instability and unrest. Our analysis of fragile environments improves greatly when local data is combined with data sources such as media reports, social media, and databases from international organizations. And where we can better understand a complex situation, we can build better response and mitigation methods.