The Rohingya refugees should be allowed to engage in economic activities so that they can contribute to regional development, Commerce Secretary Shubhashish Bose said yesterday.
“It may take a lot of time to send the Rohignyas back to their own land. In the meantime, they can be utilised in different works,” he said at a forum styled “the Bangladesh Inc. - Chances & Challenges” at the capital's Westin Hotel.
The event was organised by amfori, a Brussels-based organisation of 2,000 retailers who transact more than $1 trillion a year.
“Otherwise, we have to provide food and seek international assistance for them,” Bose said, citing the making of handicrafts as an area in which the Rohingyas can be employed.
Almost a million Rohingyas came to Bangladesh since August 25 last year, ActionAid Bangladesh's Country Director Farah Kabir said.
“Most of them were traumatised. They had been deprived of their basics. After six or seven months they became restless. They want better food. They want to get money for buying better foods like meat. Women want more dignity.”
She went on to urge the private sector to create employment for Rohingyas, she added.
“Many of the Syrian refugees sheltered in Turkey started working in that country's textile sector,” said Pierre Groning, director of advocacy of amfori.
In order to achieve some of the development targets set for 2021 Bangladesh needs to attract $10 billion in foreign direct investment, said Farooq Sobhan, president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute.
At present, Bangladesh receives about $2 billion in FDI a year.
Before 2021, the amount needs to be doubled, if not trebled, to achieve some of the targets, Sobhan said.
“If we do not act together the investment will go to Vietnam and Myanmar,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bose said bilateral trade between Myanmar and Bangladesh will not be hampered due to the Rohingya issue.
“Although it is not so high at present, it is not because of the Rohingya crisis. It is for other reasons like difficulties in transportation and communications.”
Between the months of July and December last year, exports to Myanmar declined 12.08 percent year-on-year to $10.04 million, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
Last fiscal year, Bangladesh imported goods worth about $48 million from Myanmar and exported goods worth $23.73 million, according to data from the Bangladesh-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
As per the proposal of the Myanmar government, a commerce secretary-level meeting will take place in the neighbouring country very soon, Bose added.
Groning also touched upon the topic of women empowerment in the workplace.
By advancing women equality in business relations, an additional $28 trillion can be generated by the global economy by 2025.
“Bangladesh has the capability for social changes and buyers are also very much committed to this. But major responsibility lies with Bangladesh,” he added.
MA Jabbar, managing director of DBL Group, one of the leading garment exporters, said women make up a large component of its 33,000-strong workforce.
Productivity improved 4 percent since he took the initiative of empowering women in his factories in 2011.
“We are trying to engage more women, particularly in the supervisor and senior manager posts,” he added.
Daniel Seidl, amfori's senior advisor, moderated the discussion.