A virtual exhibition of Rohingya photographers has been launched to document the life of Kutupalong, largest refugee camp in the worldin southern Bangladesh, trying to learn more about the lives of hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim Rohingya who were forced to flee Myanmar five years ago.
Anra Rohingya (We Are Rohingya) focuses on the theme of identity and showcases the work of 11 photographers from Rohingyatographer, a magazine produced by a team at the refugee camp.
The United Nations describes it as “The most persecuted minority in the world”nearly 1 million Rohingya living in refugee camps in Bangladesh as a result of Myanmar’s brutal military crackdown in 2017, is now the subject of a genocide investigation by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Some Rohingya remain in camps in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, where their movement is restricted and closely monitored.
Years of official discrimination fueled the exhibition’s theme, with successive Myanmar leaders — including Aung San Suu Kyi, who was overthrown by generals in a February 2021 coup — refusing to recognize the Rohingya as Burmese citizens, referring to the group as Burmese citizens. “Bengali”.
Sahat Zia Hero, Rohingya refugee, founder Rohingya Photographer Magazine “We want the world to see the Rohingya refugee community through our own eyes,” the person who curated the exhibition and book said in a media release.
“We want people to see us as human beings, just like everyone else, to share our hopes and dreams, our sorrows and sorrows, and to connect with others.”
The exhibition and the accompanying first issue of Rohinyatographer magazine depict everyday life in Kutupalong.
The entire exhibition features faces of all ages, hopeful and serious, just a few of the hundreds of thousands that make up the displaced Rohingya.
And the faces of babies born after 2017, of which save the children report There are over 100,000.
Under the military, repatriation to their homeland in Myanmar in any form is increasingly unlikely, meaning Kutupalong may be the only home they know for years to come.
Camps like Kutupalong have existed in Bangladesh since the early 1990s, when an early military regime pushed some 250,000 Rohingya across the border, marked by the Naf River.
One of the Rohingya photographers featured in the exhibition and book, Md Jamal was born in Kutupalong in 1991.
He told Al Jazeera he started taking pictures “to show the world how the Rohingya refugees are being tortured”.
“I hope our audience is interested in seeing life in the Rohingya refugee community through our own eyes,” he said.
Jamal, who cannot give his full name for fear of persecution, also told Al Jazeera that the media helped him cope with the trauma he experienced.
The group is stateless as Myanmar rejects the Rohingya as citizens.
Their identity – 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 fueled a fire of resentment among the people of Myanmar against the Muslim minority, who are mostly Buddhists, who have gained popular support for repeated attacks on the group over the past few decades.
Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi even traveled to The Hague to defend the military against genocide charges.
“Each photographer has their own unique visual language,” says Jamal. “I’m still learning to use photography myself to learn to see. But it also helps me deal with and embrace the issues we face every day living here.”
Inside Myanmar, tens of thousands of Rohingya have been held in camps in Rakhine state since 2012.
Those who live there are subject to severe restrictions that limit their freedom, movement and civil rights.
recent Human Rights Watch report The 10-year record of Rohingya forced into camps shows that the situation has worsened since the coup.
“The situation has only gotten worse over the past decade,” Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.
“When we talk to Rohingya in refugee camps, there is a pervasive, extreme sense of hopelessness that anything can change.”
Rohingya in refugee camps lack access to education and medical aid and are closely monitored by strict travel restrictions that make it difficult for them to work.
Some 600,000 Rohingya who survived atrocities in 2017 remain in villages in rural Myanmar, but face restrictions similar to those in refugee camps.
“Whether it’s in the camp or in the village, the restrictions on both are very similar,” Bauchner said. “The apartheid regime imposed by the military applies to all Rohingya, no matter where they live.”
Bauchner said the international community needed to take some responsibility for what happened to the Rohingya.
“If in 2012 the international community recognized the military’s crimes as ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and acted to hold the military accountable, the next decade could look really different,” she said.
Need to return safely
Ronan Lee, Author Myanmar Rohingya genocidetold Al Jazeera that a military coup in 2021 – General Min Aung Hlaing’s seizure of power – will only exacerbate the suffering of Rohingya on both sides of the border.
“Min Aung Hlaing – with more power than in 2017 when he orchestrated the genocidal forced deportation of most Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh – a dire outcome for the Rohingya ,”He says.
“The military does not consider the Rohingya to be a legitimate part of Myanmar’s state or political structure. The military doesn’t want the Rohingya in Myanmar and that’s why they are genocidal against the group.”
The situation of Rohingya remaining in Myanmar villages or refugee camps is “very dangerous,” Lee said.
“The army has shown that it is ready to shoot at peaceful protesters across the country, who are members of the Buddhist majority,” he said.
“Not to mention what they might have done to members of the Muslim minority who they have genocidalized against them.”
For the Rohingya on the Bangladesh border, Lee said returning home is now almost impossible.
“The Rohingya want to go back to their ancestral lands, they want to go back to Myanmar, but they want to go back in safety,” he said.
“They should not be given the option of returning to unsafe Myanmar or staying in a refugee camp in Bangladesh indefinitely.”
Lee believes that the international community has a responsibility to ensure a peaceful and secure outcome for the Rohingya.
“The job of the international community is to make the situation safe for them,” he told Al Jazeera.
“A genocidal military regime should not be tolerated to remain in power in Myanmar and prevent the Rohingya from returning to their ancestral lands.”
Photographer Md Jamal told Al Jazeera that, like most Rohingya, he wanted to return to Myanmar, but only if it was safe.
Until then, he said, “I intend to continue photographing Rohingya refugees.”
Check out Anra Rohingya (We Are Rohingya) and Rohingyatographer Magazine here.