For decades, the xenophobic, Burmese military junta has refused to recognize the Rohingya as a distinct Muslim ethnic minority living in western Burma. Internationally, their story is under reported. The Rohingya are probably the most voiceless and stateless refugee community in the world.
Since early 2009, I have been photographing exiled Rohingya in Bangladesh, inside the refugee camps. With the support of the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund, I documented resettled Rohingya refugees in Bradford, England, as they make a foreign land their new home. With the support of UNHCR, a small number of Rohingya people are able to leave their temporary homes in refugee camps to resettle permanently in other countries including Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, and United States.
The next chapter of my project, will take me from Bangladesh to Malaysia. The Rohingya have been fleeing Burma to Malaysia for decades to seek better lives. But when the Rohingya reach Malaysia, they live in limbo. Most do not have permission to be in Malaysia, but they cannot return to Burma. In Malaysia, the Rohingya are often not permitted to attend school and many are denied health care. They are also at constant risk of arrest. Even those persons the UNHCR has recognized as refugees are detained and deported on a regular basis.
When the project is complete, I will work with UNHCR to distribute the photographs through publications and public exhibitions. I hope that my work will bring greater visibility to the Rohingya people and the enormous challenges they face to gain the most basic human rights.
All images copyright © Saiful Huq Omi
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