The Disowned and the Denied

by Saiful Huq Omi

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.

Saiful Huq Omi

Soon after Saiful Huq Omi (Born 1980, Bangladesh) finishes his masters from the Tele Communication Engineering Department, he received his diploma from Pathshala and decided to become a photographer in 2005.

He is represented by Polaris Images and He is the contact photographer of New York Times.

His works have been published in Newsweek, Foto File USA, New York Times, New Internationalist, Time Magazine, The Guardian, The Economists ,Days Japan and Asian Photography and in the Arab News and in BBC.

He has lectured and presented his works and took photography workshops at The London School of Economics, Rochester Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Beacon house National University in Pakistan, Danish School of Photojournalism and Columbia University and in many other universities.

He has been exhibited in galleries in Zimbabwe, Beirut, Kabul, Nairobi, England, Russia, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Germany, Pakistan, Japan and USA and in the Netherlands.

He has won the All Roads National Geographic Award for his works on political violence in Bangladesh in 2006. He has won award of excellence in 2008 and Silver Medal in 2009 from the China International Press Photography Contest. He is one of the finalists for the Aftermath Project Grant-2009 and Alexia Grant for two consecutive years 2009 and 2010 for his project on the Rohingya refuges of Myanmar. He is selected for ‘Europe And Asia’ exhibition in Russia and LOOK3 in USA in 2009. His on going work on the Rohingya refugees of Myanmar has been selected for the Moving Walls 17 Exhibition. He has won the emerging photographers grant from Open Society Institute (OSI) in 2010. He has been selected for the special jury prize of DAYS JAPAN International Photojournalism Awards in 2010 for his work on the Rohingya refugees. He has won the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund for his Rohingya project. His on going work on the ship breaking industry is selected in Lumix Festival for Young Photojournalism. And he has been selected in the 17th Joop Swart Masterclass in 2010.

He has published his first book named –“Heroes Never Die- Tales of Political Violence in Bangladesh, 1989-2005”.

He also jointly directed a documentary film called ‘Roaring Kansat’ (2006) on the people’s movement of Kansat- a remote village of Bangladesh where in 2006 a mass movement demanding the uninterrupted power supplies got momentum. The film tried to dissect the process of how an agrarian mass became politically conscious and active while asking for a basic right to be existed as farmer.

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