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Rohyingya. Myanmar’s internally displaced. Photo essay by Phil Behan

April 28, 2013 /Photography News/ The endless persecution of Muslim Rohingya continues in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and now they face further hardship as the monsoon season approaches the South East Asian country.

Community members in the remote river village of Inbargyi in Myanmar's Rakhine State. Locals say the village was attacked by a large group of people in October and several thousand people fled during the violence. The local Mosque was also burned to the ground. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR

Life in such an environment is not easy at this time of year, but when also faced with the constant threat of attack, torture and life in a sprawling dusty refugee camp, it suddenly becomes intolerable. Unfortunately for over 100, 000 Muslim Rohingya this is a daily reality as thousands have been displaced from their homes since ethnic fighting between Rohingya and Rakine Buddhists broke out across Myanmar’s Rakhine State in June 2012.

Verse's of the Koran burned in the violence in the remote river village of Inbargyi in Myanmar's Rakhine State. Locals say the village was attacked by a large group of people in October and several thousand people fled during the violence. The local Mosque was also burned to the ground and most say they are in desperate need of food and clothing items. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR

The Rohingya have been classified by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world and evidence of this is clearly visible in the refugee camps situated near the provincial Rakhine capital of Sittwe. Everybody here has a story, from the old women who frailly wander the refugee camps during the blistering day time heat, to the young children blissfully playing between the rows of makeshift tents. 

A woman amongst the crowds in the remote river village of Gotepitaung in Myanmar's Rakhine State. Most families lost all their possessions and nearly all had their house burned to the ground during the recent violence. A total of 116 families live in the village and over 100 families were affected by the recent conflict in Oct 2012. Many houses were looted and ransacked during the violence and as a result the village has no access to proper sanitation and the drinking water levels are running low. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR

Thousands in the camps bear the scars of horrific violence, while others have lost entire families. Many Rohingya on the back of such a faith have decided to flee Myanmar. An estimated 27,800 of them mostly from Rakhine state have left on risky boat journeys from the Bay of Bengal. Hundreds are believed to have drowned en route and many more have landed in countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

A distressed Rohingya  woman and her family living alongside 32 others in two tents in the remote river village of Nabu Khan situated some 3 hours by boat from Sittwe. The conditions in this village were particularly bad. Two large makeshift tents housed over 32 families living on top of each other. The total population of the village is 2480 with some 480 families already hosting IDP's from the conflict. So far the villagers say they have received no assistance from any organisation and need food and access to medical supplies as soon as possible. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR

So what’s being done?

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees along with other NGO’s and organisations are firmly on the ground assisting and providing relief to thousands of Internally Displaced Persons but their resources are stretched to near breaking point. Most Refugees are situated near the provincial capital of Sittwe, but others are much further afield in townships such as Mugadaw which are situated far from the capital. Most if not all the camps are at near capacity and increased international and local financial aid is badly required. Many of the camps lack basic sanitation facilities and also proper access to education and medical services are in dire need.

Committee members check NFI (Non Food Item) distribution lists in Palinbyin Village near Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine State. The village is home to over 822 families and many complain they are receiving no non food items. The UNHCR field teams continue to investigate the issues faced by the people in the village. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR
Mohammed Inasnu tells UNHCR staff he had no food for 7 days and has lost all of his possessions during the recent violence in Sittwe. His family was displaced from their original village of Jyaenaysu and he says he was also attacked by Rakhine people. They are now located in the Thet Khal Pyin Refugee camp near Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine State. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR

So how can it be resolved?

There is no overnight solution to this problem, and for the time being the faith of thousands of Rohingya remains uncertain, but what is needed immediately is International assistance in setting up dialogue between both communities to at least simmer the violence and allow agencies such as UNHCR and other organisations to continue to provide relief and assistance to the thousands of already Internally Displaced Persons within the country. Until such occurs, Rakhine remains on a knife edge.

Rasoul Banu aged 75 years old in the Thet Khal Pyin Refugee camp. Rasoul was displaced from her original village of Raggon during October's violence. She is deeply distressed by these recent events and says she has no home or possessions to return too. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR

A Rohingya woman and her family in Saydharmar village in Myanmar's Rahkine State. Since the fighting broke out in October 2012, thousands of Rohingya and their families have been displaced to temporary camps and shelters near Sittwe. Most are in desperate need of access to medical and sanitation services. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR

Written by Phil. Behan

Sources: United Nations / UNHCR / Norwegian Refugee Council

About the photographer:

Phil Behan is a freelance photographer based in Guangzhou, China. The body of Phil’s work is focused mainly around documentary photography with a particular focus on stories about displacement, Integration and Refugee issues. The majority of his work has been published by the UNHCR and United Nations agencies.

Phil also has a keen interest in Saharan travel and mountaineering. He has travelled extensively in remote sections of the desert, areas of which include Algeria's Immidir and Tefedest regions, Mauritania’s Majabat Region, Niger’s Tenere area and Mali's Northern Deserts. 

Previous clients include, The World Food Programme, Save the Children, The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), The International Organisation for Migration(IOM) UNDP, Unicef, UNESCO, Merip (Middle East Review Magazine), World Vision (Jordan), Jesuit Refugee Service, Afghan Scene Magazine, Focus Ireland, FID (UK) and The World Bank.

Newswires and magazines publications include Al-Jazeera In-Pictures, The Shot Magazine Ireland, The Irish Times, BBC In Pictures, The Irish Examiner, Independent on Sunday, The Limerick Leader and The Washington Diplomat.


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4 comments:

  1. Anonymous says

    An excellent contribution from the commenter above.If that is all you can offer then perhaps you should follow your own advice.


    Anonymous says

    Nice work.The media seemed to have forgotten about the Rohingya.


    Julian K. says

    I find the picture of the burnt Koran verse particularly powerful, but love the entire body of work. Thank you for sharing!


    Simone H says

    Excellent story,but would also be interested to see the Buddhist perspective.


4 comments so far. What do you think?