Local Entrepreneurs Learn Construction, Business Skills as Bangladesh Refugee Camps Offer Economic Opportunities

Migration and Development, Rohingya Crisis

Cox’s Bazar – When four young Bangladeshis living near the world’s largest refugee camp – home to nearly a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar – heard about a free programme teaching construction and business skills, they immediately saw an opportunity.  

“Lots of people had come over the border [since 2017] and houses were going up everywhere. But there weren’t enough contractors and the ones here didn’t have much experience,” said Reza.  

“We had talked about starting our own contracting business, but with nobody teaching business or construction skills it seemed impossible. I grew up here and there are no good schools. Most of the craftsmen just make it up as they go along,” he added.  

That changed when a new IOM training facility teaching construction and business skills opened on the outskirts of Cox’s Bazar’s giant Kutupalong refugee camp. The intensive 25-day, 84-hour programme offered training in everything from how to mix cement, to masonry, basic accounting and employee relations. 

The school is linked to the Site Maintenance and Engineering Project or SMEP – a joint IOM, UNHCR and WFP initiative to improve infrastructure in the refugee camps, which are spread over miles of hilly terrain which was once forest. The refugees live at continual risk of landslides and flooding during the monsoon.  

Reza’s friend Anan, 29, who also completed the course, said that the area also poses unique construction challenges. There are virtually no rocks for construction or to secure structural foundations. Concrete slabs therefore have to be used for securing flood-prone houses and making pavements.  

“We learnt how to make concrete slabs. The techniques of how to mix the cement correctly and the proportions and types of sand were actually new to us,” said Anan, who had previously worked in construction, but with no formal training.  

When Reza and his friends graduated from the programme they felt ready to launch their own company: Star Construction. In addition to offering its services to aid agencies working in the camps, the company plans to serve the local community in Cox’s Bazar and to hire local workers.  

The training facility is one of various initiatives launched by the international community to help the “host community” in Cox’s Bazar, a previously isolated border area where the refugee relief effort has brought in technical experts from around the world.     

IOM sees training the local community in skills ranging from construction to computers and administration as a key element in localizing the delivery of relief services in Bangladesh, according to IOM Bangladesh Deputy Chief of Mission Manuel Pereira. 

With the success of its first training facility, IOM plans to expand its efforts with the addition of a two-story workshop in Kutupalong. On offer will be basic skills training in metal working, mechanics and possibly welding, he added. 

For more information please contact George McLeod at IOM Bangladesh, Tel: + +880 18 7071 8078, Email: gmcleod@iom.int

  • After graduation, Reza and his friends established their own company – Star Construction. Photo: IOM