The Rohingya Crisis in Images
Across the globe, more than 65 million refugees are living in a state of perpetual uncertainty, displaced from their communities due to conflict, persecution, and natural disasters. The numbers alone are overwhelming, and it’s a challenge for concerned global citizens to fathom the extent of the crisis and the conditions in which many of our fellow human beings find themselves.
From South Sudan to Syria, Afghanistan to Myanmar, the catastrophe is expanding with each passing day. While the international community recognizes the urgency to mitigate its severity, the lagging response to the desperation of our most vulnerable populations has not been commensurate with this awareness.
Through her images, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Cheryl Diaz Meyer has brought much-needed attention to the plight of the Rohingya, Myanmar’s persecuted ethnic minority who have been forced into increasingly dire circumstances for decades. The Rohingya people, most of whom are Muslim, are not officially recognized as one the country’s 135 ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship since 1982. As a stateless population, they have been pushed ever deeper into the margins in the midst of unprecedented population growth that has contributed to their continued displacement.
The images Diaz Meyer has captured document the flood of displaced Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh. It’s a stark reminder that this unfolding saga is, and always has been, intolerable and morally reprehensible. It is at times like these, when images like the ones below force us to confront our connection to all humanity and say enough. The international community must prioritize relief now.
Myanmar’s Rohingya refugee children are traumatized by the violence they’ve witnessed from the Myanmar army. Here, they wait to board boats in Chalpuridip, Bangladesh to continue their journey to refugee camps further inland.
The crisis that began as a counterattack by the Myanmar government against Rohingya militants who had previously attacked several police bases on August 25, turned into a full scale “ethnic cleansing,” according to the UNHCR, as the army and local Buddhists firebombed, raped, and murdered across Rakhine state, the predominantly Muslim western region of Myanmar.
To date, over 600,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has a predominantly Buddhist population, and the Rohingya are a Muslim minority who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They have no right to vote, and are restricted from accessing education, healthcare, travel, work, and marriage. Myanmar’s de Facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has been criticized for failing to condemn the violence.
Hungry, tired, and dehydrated, a Rohingya refugee carries his unconscious wife to a nearby auto rickshaw as they flee to Bangladesh. Many refugees spoke of drinking salt water for several days to survive, and of fights erupting as they waited for boats to ferry them from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
Once lush hills have been stripped of greenery as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who recently arrived in Bangladesh build shelters of plastic, tarpaulin, and bamboo. As of September, the camp has over 10,000 shelters on 1.5 square miles, and is growing daily.
Orphan Mohammadshakir Mohammadkaisar, 10, is comforted by his aunt Yasmin Nurulhaq while cousin Zeshmintara Nurulhaq, 4, watches, after the boy was hit in the face during an altercation in Zadimora village near the Myanmar border in Bangladesh.
Tensions among refugees escalate as the stress of hunger, poverty, and the ongoing violence in their home country flares. The unregistered refugee camp is growing with plastic, tarpaulin, and bamboo shelters built by newly-arrived Rohingya refugees. Water and sanitation is severely lacking in unregistered camps where NGOs are unable to support them, raising the risk for water-born disease, dysentery, and cholera.
After escaping into Bangladesh, Rohingya refugee Dolohussam Amirkhamza, 60, is carried by his brother Rahamatullah Amirkhamza, left, and neighbor Rahim Mohammedhussein, right, as they journey from the southernmost tip of Bangladesh inland to refugee camps in Teknaf Upazila.
Rohingya refugee Bibijan Nurulamin, 25, holds her 7-day-old daughter in the unregistered camp of Musoni Noyapara near the Myanmar border in Bangladesh. She was eight months pregnant with her fifth child when she walked for three days to reach Bangladesh with the help of her husband and 10 other family members.
They share a plastic and bamboo shelter on a property donated by a Bangladeshi family that they built for $75. The camp has no water source except for a hose that another neighbor turns on twice a day so the refugees can each fill one jug. She and her family drink brown muddy water while popping pills for diarrhea and laying listless in the heat of monsoon season.
Bibijan, like her parents and many Rohingya, is illiterate. Her husband was a fisherman in Myanmar, but today they spend their days lining up for food rations at the World Food Program distribution center. “We must do what we must do,” said Bibijan. “Even if we have to beg to survive.”
Myanmar’s Rohingya refugee Anwara Nurhassan, right, takes a boat from Chalpuridip, Bangladesh, as she continues her journey to refugee camps further inland.
Hundreds of newly arrived Rohingya refugees wait for aid just outside the Noyapara refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Mohammadshofait Kurimullah, 8, still suffers from burn wounds when his family’s home was set on fire in Lambaghuna Moungdaw, Myanmar. His mother, Yasmin Kurimullah, says she has not seen his father and one of her other sons since August 25. They now live in Whaikhyang Refugee Camp, near the Myanmar border in Bangladesh.
Between rains, Rohingya refugees fold up a tarpaulin in Whaikhyang Refugee Camp in Bangladesh. Hills once lush with greenery have been stripped and now shelter thousands of refugees seeking safety.