“Talking Peace” Creates an On-air Conversation for Rohingya Refugees and Residents in Bangladesh

There’s a lot to discuss in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of minority Rohingya refugees have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar, only to live in an uneasy peace with the Bangladeshi host community. Rumors fly constantly in both communities – Rohingya fear further persecution and forced return to a land where their lives may be at risk again; Bangladeshis fear rising prices and competition for jobs and resources.

But last week on the radio, like on so many other radio shows around the world, the conversation turned, in part, to the weather.

Monsoon season has arrived, and the threat of severe weather affects everyone.  Heavy rains and thunderstorms have swept parts of the country, with nearly 50 people killed in lightning strikes in April. No casualties have been reported in and around the refugee camps, but people living in makeshift huts on the hillside are particularly exposed. Nearly 200,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis in Ukhia are at risk of flooding in May, according to the local administration.

So emergency preparedness, and how the refugee and host communities can help each other during natural disasters, was the focus of the second episode of “Shantir Lai Kotha Koi,” (Talking Peace), a radio show produced by Internews in Cox’s Bazaar.

“Storms and floods affect refugees and villagers alike,” Muhammad Amin, a Rohingya, said on the show. “If our brothers in the villages stand beside us, help us with information about incoming cyclones and provide support as necessary, we would be very grateful to them.”

‘Flying news’

Airing in the regional Chatgaiya dialect on local FM stations Radio Naf and as a podcast, Talking Peace brings together members of the Bangladeshi and Rohingya community to discuss critical local issues that affect both communities.

A team of 12 community correspondents, evenly split between Rohingyas and Bangladeshis, and nearly half women, form the bulk of the small team that produces the show. The correspondents not only help with getting “man on the street” interviews, but they also track potentially destructive rumors in the camps and surrounding villages.

One woman interviews another woman; both are wearing head scarves.
One of Internews’ community correspondents interviews a member of the host community. Credit Internews.

A regular segment debunking rumors is called “Urainnya Khobor” – the literal translation is “flying news.”

In Talking Peace’s first episode, which focused on the very real risk of human trafficking in and around the camps, the “flying news” segment dispelled a myth that traffickers have a special mirror that causes children to faint.

Building Bridges

“The show provides lifesaving and life-enhancing information that will not only help people access services but also build bridges between the communities,” said Zain Mahmood, Internews project director in Bangladesh.

Tensions have risen sharply between the Rohingya and host communities in and around the camps in the past months, making Cox’s Bazar a tinderbox. International aid groups have also come in for criticism, and occasionally violence, from locals who think they are being ignored in the aid effort.

“Talking Peace is tackling the elephant in the room and trying to defuse tensions by bringing the refugee and host communities together and appealing to a common humanity,” said Mahmood.

To extend the conversation, Internews has organized 15 listeners’ groups that discuss the show within the community, provide feedback, and share the audio content through Bluetooth, so that people who can’t access it by radio or by going to the podcast online can play it on their phones.

Balanced Reporting

The radio show is one part of Internews’ humanitarian information response in Bangladesh. Another focus is boosting the ability of Bangladesh’s local media to maintain professional standards while covering the Rohingya crisis particularly and conflict situations in general.

In April, 20 local journalists took part in a workshop on conflict-sensitive reporting, which included a reporting trip to a refugee camp, and will be followed by mentoring which supports the quality of their reporting over time.

A group of journalists walks down a dirt road in a camp
Trainees on a field trip to Kutupalong refugee camp during the conflict sensitive journalism workshop. Credit Internews

The journalists’ feedback was overwhelmingly positive. “The most useful training I’ve had in years,” wrote a senior reporter. “Opened my eyes to the media’s role in conflict,” said another.

The workshop, the first of six to be held in Dhaka, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar, is part of Internews’ efforts to engage with and train Bangladeshi media organizations to report objectively on the Rohingya issue, avoid propagating rumors and generally play a more constructive role in the aid response.

“Local journalism has a very important role to play,” said Mahmood. “Negative perceptions can be stoked by inflammatory reporting in the local media. On the other hand, responsible reporting has the ability to build foundations for peace.”

Donate to get lifesaving information to Rohingya refugees. 

More information on Internews’ Rohingya project:

  • What Matters?: Humanitarian Feedback Bulletin for Communities Affected by the Rohingya Refugee Crisis
  • Flying News: Rohingya Response Rumour Tracking Newsletter
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Internews’ humanitarian reporting work in Bangladesh is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Internews’ initial response in the region was supported by individual giving. Additional work in Bangladesh to support information flows in Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities is supported by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) in partnership with BBC Media Action.

(Banner photo: Internews’ community correspondents work on producing the radio and podcast show ‘Shantir Lai Kotha Koi’ or Talking Peace. Credit Internews)