Tthe camera of a budget smartphone has become a way for many of the Rohingya trapped in Bangladesh’s refugee camps to tell their own stories and capture photos of their lives in the camps, which have become the world’s largest when 700,000 people fled the Myanmar army five years ago. , joining 300,000 who have already sought refuge across the border.
These photographers, all under 30, are building a record of the culture and traditions they fear could be lost so far from home, and have honed their skills during floods and fires and other frequent moments of crisis.
Their photos have appeared in international media and photography competitions. Sahat Zia Hero, one of a growing number of Rohingya photographers, published a book of his own work called Rohingyatography last year and followed it up by helping to set up a magazine that publishes the photographs of others who he met in the camps.
Until 2012 I studied at Sittwe University in Rakhine State. I had to apply for papers and permits from the government to show up at checkpoints where they only searched Muslims. Even at university I was discriminated against by students and even teachers. They hated us Rohingya.
When the riots happened, the violence no longer meant education for Rohingya. When I returned to my village, I was detained for three days and beaten by the police. I didn’t leave after that. I supported my father by fishing, but I also bought a smartphone and computer and that’s when I started my photography. They were illegal for us to own, but I used them in the jungle and learned about them from YouTube videos I streamed with Bangladeshi internet service on the border.
We are refugees because of a genocide by the army, and now a million Rohingya people live in refugee camps. Our goal is to highlight our crisis, to show the international community that genocide and persecution are still going on, even without publicity.
Living in the camps is difficult, especially without education and freedom of movement. The camps are crowded. Nowhere is currently safe for the Rohingya.
The Covid-19 lockdown has meant that international journalists have stopped coming to the camps, but it has encouraged Rohingya photographers to tell their own stories. Taking and sharing photos feels like a duty to my people, a way to use my passion for their betterment. It is the best language – it speaks more than words and shows reality. I want the world to see the Rohingya people as human beings, just like everyone else, with our hopes and dreams, sorrows, happiness and sadness.
Find Zia on Instagram @ziahero
I had never touched a smartphone until I passed my school exam in 2017. My brother gave me a smartphone to call my sister in Malaysia, but I thought why not start capturing some memories and moments and the beauty of my surroundings. I can keep them in my phone as history for future generations. Instead, just a few months later we had to leave our home due to the army’s attacks and I took more pictures as we escaped through the jungle.
Now I take pictures because it gives me joy – it can swing my mood from sadness to happiness. If I ever feel depressed or anxious, I pick up my camera because in that moment of taking the picture I am totally focused on that subject and not on my depression. I can’t really express the joy I feel when I share those photos with others, especially when they appreciate them.
I take pictures of whatever interests me – it doesn’t matter if it’s animals, people, nature, food or something else; I just take the picture. Whatever my eye sees, my camera sees.
Find Ishrat on Twitter: @IshratForiImran
Rohingya lifestyle, our Myanmar cultural traditions, and our creativity – I wanted to capture it, so that’s why I started taking photos and videos from inside the refugee camps. It is my passion to tell the world about our lifestyle, so wherever I go in the camps, I use my phone to take pictures.
I take pictures of Rohingya children, shelters, works of art, flowers, cultural traditions and also of the crises we face in the camps, such as landslides, floods and fires. Although some other Rohingya don’t like their photos taken for their privacy, most are really interested in photography and what we do by sharing it with the world.
I am a genocide survivor. I live with my family and we suffered without freedom and survived an uncertain future in refugee camps for almost five years after already facing decades of discrimination and violence in Myanmar.
People are not always able to express their feelings, and photography takes courage, but this is our documentary of the crisis we face in these camps.
Find Yassin on Instagram @ro_yassin_abdumonab
Photography helps us to let people know how we suffer. I take pictures of people who are still suffering while living a life of refuge here. I take photos because I think it can help others understand the subjects of those photos and what they desire.
It makes me happy to take pictures, and when I want to raise an issue facing my community, I always choose to take pictures over writing because it has a stronger impact on the viewers.
Find Ro Anamul on Instagram @roanamul_hasan
I don’t remember exactly why I started photography, but I loved it from a very young age, although I only started in 2017, with a small mobile phone. I even started making short films as well.
I love taking pictures and do it as often as I can, especially of nature and on the street, but I have to be careful because of the rules inside the camp – I don’t always feel safe taking pictures here not. Most people encourage me, even though the reaction is mixed and some wonder if it has any use for me to build a career.
These pictures capture memories and testimony, recording our lives for decades and eras to come. A special image can help alleviate chaos and reveal the unknown. It helps me mentally and also economically, and I can use it to really capture our society. I think these photos will be part of our history.
Find Mayyu on Instagram @mayyu_khan
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