B&WEuropeStoryRohingyas, what’s next? by Erwan Rogard

Since August 25, 2017, extreme violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, has driven an estimated 687,000 Rohingya refugees across theborder into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Generations of statelessness imposed vulnerabilities on these people
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Since August 25, 2017, extreme violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, has driven an estimated 687,000 Rohingya refugees across theborder into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Generations of statelessness imposed vulnerabilities on these people even before the severe traumas of this most recent crisis. The people and government of Bangladesh welcomed them with resounding generosity and open borders.

The speed and scale of the influx was nonetheless a challenge, and the humanitarian community stepped up its support to help mitigate a critical humanitarian emergency. Months later, refugees remain forced to rely upon humanitarian assistance for their basic needs. They live in congested sites that are ill-equipped to handle the early rains, monsoon and cyclone seasons. Many refugees have expressed anxiety about their future in light of media reports of discussions on returns, explaining that they would not agree to return until questions of citizenship, legal rights, access to services, justice and restitution are addressed.

Often referred to as the most persecuted minority in the world, Rohingya are Stateless, unwanted by both Myanmar and Bangladesh. Journalists from around the world have covered this fact extensively, resulting in a movement by the international community to advocate for the rights of the Rohingya. In this project, we wanted to focus on what the Rohingya community has in common with other displaced communities. We wanted to capture their daily routines, their hopes and dreams, their attitudes toward life, and the way they stay positive despite the circumstances and their unknown fate. We wanted to focus on how they spend their days weeks before the next possible catastrophe, the monsoon season. We wanted to celebrate their resilience and their character. [Text by Farrah Kashfipour]

About Erwan Rogard

Erwan Rogard is a photojournalist based in West Africa for the last five years. He is also working on short emergency missions for NGOs as a “mapman”, which explains why he was in the Balukhali-Kutupalong camps.[Official Website]

Mohammad Rafique is 32 years old. Prior to moving to the camp, he worked with the World Food Program in Myanmar for seven years. He and his wife, along with their three children, made the journey to Bangladesh out of concern for their safety. Though he is frustrated with the way things have turned out for the Rohingya community, he is optimistic about the future. Speaking perfect English, he says, “Our luck is bad. We became refugees, but my family is safe for the moment. I am alive.”

Romida Begum is 18 years old. Romida comes from a family of tailors. Since moving to the camp, she has decided to share her talent with the community, teaching other women how to sew. On the day of the interview, she was preparing a dress for a neighbor while her husband attended a funeral. At eight months pregnant and with her 3-year-old daughter, her days are packed with sewing lessons, food preparation, and a number of other chores. “The sewing machine is more than just a tool to make clothes,” she says. “For me, it’s a way to give back to my community during these difficult times.”

Dilnoyas is 22 years old and the daughter of a village leader. She escaped the violence in Myanmar with her family in August 2017. Taking a break from preparing lunch, she shares memories of her home and the family farm, the cattle and acres of land for growing rice, tomatoes, and potatoes. With so much uncertainty ahead, she keeps her worries to herself and manages life in the camp one day at a time.

Hasina Begum is 26 years old. She lives with her husband and three small children in a shelter on top of a hill in the Balukhali camp, and like most of the others, they made their way to Bangladesh in August 2017. When she is not busy preparing meals, waiting for distributions, and doing the various other tasks one has to do to survive in a congested camp, she knits. Hasina started knitting this fishing net two days before I met her, having purchased the raw material for it at the local market. As she skillfully moves her hands through the net she says, “It can take up to three months to complete. I’m making this for when we return home.”

Moji Mohato Khatun is 25 years old. She lost her husband three years ago in a fishing accident. She and her three children arrived in the camp in September 2017. On the journey to Bangladesh, she sold most of her jewelry, little by little, to reach the safety of the camps. She cannot afford to send her children to the barbershop for haircuts. Instead, she borrows a pair scissors from a neighbor and gives a curbside haircut to her son right outside of their shelter. She smiles and tells her son, who is now itchy and not willing to sit still in the heat, “Just a few more minutes.”

Selina is 25 years old. She and her family moved to the camp on September 7, 2017; she tells me the precise date. Back home, Selina was a tailor and worked with her mother and sisters in a small shop while her brothers and father worked on a farm. When I met Selina, she was making a termi (a local word for skirt). She hopes to save enough money to buy a sewing machine, but until then, sewing by hand has been a way to keep busy while also making clothes for the community.

Nur Ahmed is 55 years old. He, his wife, and their seven children left Myanmar on September 10, 2017. Back home, he tells me, he was quiet a successful man. He adds, “We didn’t come here for the rations. This is for life-saving.” Nur Ahmed, like many others in Myanmar, has the ‘betel habit’, a predilection for a popular stimulant chewed by many men, and some women in Myanmar. Since arriving in the camp, he tells me, smearing the slaked lime on the betel leaf, his consumption has decreased dramatically compared to back home. This, of course, is because he has no source of income. He smiles, “It’s probably better for my health.”

Nur Kamal is 21 years old. He owned a barbershop in Myanmar. Since he moved to Bangladesh with his wife and one child, he has been providing free haircuts to the community for those unable to pay the fees to get a haircut at a proper barbershop in the camp. A haircut at one of the camp barbershops can cost up to 50 Taka (equivalent to 60 cents USD). Using a rice sack as a towel to keep the hair off of his clients, he needs very little to provide this necessary service. “Doing this for my community makes me happy,” he adds.

Fokir Ahmad is 43 years old. He lives with his wife and their nine children on top of a hill- their shelter prone to landslides and in danger of getting destroyed by strong winds. Fokir Ahmad, like many, owned a farm in Myanmar growing chili peppers, tomatoes, rice, and beans. He is helping to build a stronger shelter for his brother and his family in preparation for the rainy season. He tells me, of the 100 pieces of bamboo needed to rehabilitate their shelters, they have only 40 pieces, but he is making do with what is available and is happy to help his brother. He smiles and goes back to work. He and the rest of the family will move on to fixing up his shelter after finishing his brother’s. “We have to work fast. No time to waste.”

Mohammad Enos is 30 years old. He moved here with his family of four children and his wife in August 2017. He is just returning from a six-hour trip to the forest to collect firewood. He left his shelter this morning at 5:30 AM. Collecting firewood for the rainy season and Ramadan is a top priority for many Rohingya. “The work is not easy and it’s not always safe.” The locals can charge fees for tools and for the firewood. “Fights can break out and in the end,” he says, “we tend to collect the roots of previously cut trees.” He is happy to be back in his shelter with plans to eat, rest, and cut the roots he collected this morning into smaller pieces.

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