“Through our own eyes”: Rohingya refugees present a photo show News about Rohingya

Launches a virtual exhibition of ethnic Rohingya photographers to document life in Kutupalong, the largest refugee camp in the worldin southern Bangladesh, in an attempt to further understand the lives of hundreds of thousands of predominantly Rohingya Muslims who were forced to flee Myanmar five years ago.

Anra Rohingya (We Are Rohingya) focuses on the subject of identity and presents the work of 11 photographers from Rohingyatographer, a magazine created by a team based in the refugee camp.

Described by the UN as “the world’s most persecuted minority”Nearly a million Rohingya people live in refugee camps in Bangladesh as a result of brutal military repression in Myanmar in 2017, which is now under investigation for genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Some Rohingya also remain in camps in the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar, where their movement is restricted and closely monitored.

Years of official discrimination have boosted the theme of an exhibition of successive Myanmar leaders – including Aung San Suu Kyi, who was ousted by generals during the February 2021 coup – refused to recognize the Rohingya as a citizen of Myanmar and called the group “Bengali”.

Nur Actor, 10, in a red dress, holds her four-month-old sister, wrapped in cloth, in front of their house in Kutupalong camp
Nur Actor is 10 years old. She takes care of her four-month-old sister after school while her mother works [Md Jamal/Anra Rohingya (We Are Rohingya)]

Sahat Zia Hero, Rohingya refugee and founder of Rohingyatographer Magazine who is the curator of the exhibition and the book, said in a press release that “we want the world to see the Rohingya refugee community through our own eyes.”

“We want people to see us as human beings, just like everyone else, and to share our hopes and dreams, our sorrows and our sorrows with others, to make connections.”

The exhibition and the accompanying first issue of Rohingyatographer magazine depict everyday life in Kutupalong.

The faces of the old and the young, the hopeful and the serious, are on display throughout the exhibition, just a handful of the hundreds of thousands of people who make up the evicted Rohingya.

There are also the faces of babies born in 2017, of which Reports on Save the Children there are more than 100,000.

The fact that any form of repatriation to their homelands in Myanmar is less and less likely for the military means that Kutupalong may be the only home they have known for years to come.

A sense of hopelessness

Camps like Kutupalong have existed in Bangladesh since the early 1990s, when an earlier military regime expelled about a quarter of a million Rohingya across the Naf River border.

Md Jamal, one of the Rohingya photographers featured in the exhibition and the book, was born in Kutupalong in 1991.

He told Al Jazeera that he had started filming “to show the world how the Rohingya refugees were tortured”.

“I hope our audience will be interested to see the life of the Rohingya refugee community through our own eyes,” he said.

Jamal – who could not reveal his full name for fear of persecution – also told Al Jazeera that the medium had helped him cope with the trauma he had endured.

As Myanmar rejects the Rohingya as citizens, the group is stateless.

Their very identity – the Rohingya – has also been condemned, with the military claiming the ethnic group is a “Bengali” intruder who does not belong to Myanmar.

Such rhetoric has ignited outrage over the predominantly Buddhist Muslim minority group in Myanmar, garnering popular support for repeated attacks on the group over the past few decades.

The front cover of Rohingyatograher magazine shows a young man in a green striped shirt holding a photo on his phone
Front cover of Rohingyatographer magazine [Sahat Zia Hero Anra Rohingya (We Are Rohingya)]

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, even traveled to The Hague to protect the military from genocide charges.

“Every photographer has their own individual visual language,” Jamal said. “I myself am still learning to use photography to learn about observation. But it also helps me deal with and embrace the problems we face every day living here. ”

Within Myanmar, tens of thousands of Rohingya have been interned in camps in Rakhine since 2012.

Those living there are subject to strict restrictions restricting their freedom, movement and civil rights.

Soon Report on Human Rights Watch Documentation of 10 years since the Rohingya were forced into camps reveals that conditions have deteriorated since the coup.

“The situation has only gotten worse over the last ten years,” Human Rights Watch Asia researcher Shayna Bauchner told Al Jazeera.

“When we talk to the Rohingya in the camps, there is only this all-encompassing, extreme sense of hopelessness that everything will change.”

The Rohingya in the camps do not have access to education and medical care and are strictly monitored by strict travel restrictions, which make their work difficult.

About 600,000 Rohingya survivors of the 2017 atrocities remain in villages in Myanmar’s province, but face similar restrictions as in the camps.

“The restrictions for both are very similar, whether in camps or villages,” Bauchner said. “The apartheid system imposed by the military applies to all Rohingya, regardless of where they live.

Bauchner says the international community must take some responsibility for what happened to the Rohingya.

“In 2012, if the international community had recognized military crimes as ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and taken action to hold the military accountable, the next ten years could look really different,” she said.

Need for a safe return

Ronan Lee, author of The Rohingya Genocide in Myanmartold Al Jazeera that the military coup of 2021 – in which Senior General Min Aung Hlaing took power – has only complicated the misery of the Rohingya on both sides of the border.

“Min Aung Hlaing – who has more power than in 2017, when he led the genocidal forced deportation of most Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladesh – is a terrible result for the Rohingya,” he said.

“The military does not consider the Rohingya a legitimate part of Myanmar’s national or political structure. The military does not want the Rohingya in Myanmar, so they have committed genocide against the group. “

Lee says the situation for the Rohingya, who remain either in villages or in refugee camps in Myanmar, has been “incredibly dangerous”.

“This is an army that has shown that it is ready to direct its weapons against peaceful protesters across the country who are members of the Buddhist majority,” he said.

“Not to mention what they could do to members of a Muslim minority against whom they have already committed genocide.

Regarding the Rohingya across the border in Bangladesh, Lee says the prospect of returning to their homes is now almost impossible.

“The Rohingya want to return to the lands of their ancestors, they want to return to Myanmar, but they want to return when it is safe,” he said.

“They should not be given the choice of returning to dangerous Myanmar or staying indefinitely in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Black and white photo of a young Rohingya woman with her hands covering her mouth and forehead so that only her eyes are visible
A young Rohingya woman in a refugee camp [Shahida Win/Anra Rohingya (We Are Rohingya)]

Lee believes that the international community has a responsibility to ensure a peaceful and safe outcome for the Rohingya.

“It is the job of the international community to make the situation safe for them,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It must not be tolerated that a genocidal military regime remains in power in Myanmar and prevents the return of the Rohingya to the lands of their ancestors.”

Photographer Dr Jamal told Al Jazeera that, like most Rohingya, he wanted to return to Myanmar, but only when it was safe.

Until then, he said, “I intend to continue filming Rohingya refugees.”

Anra Rohingya (We Are Rohingya) and Rohingyatographer Magazine can be viewed TIMES.

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