‘This is our documentary of the crisis we face’: the Rohingya smartphone photographers | Global development

‘This is our documentary of the crisis we face’: the Rohingya smartphone photographers | Global development

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.

Sahat Zia Hero

  • Zaudha (40) stares out over the smoldering remains of her home after the biggest of the campfires, in March 2021, when 50,000 lost their homes. The smoke and heat were still too intense for her to go down to the exact place she lived.

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.

Rohingya refugees try to put out a fire that broke out in Kutupalong in July 2021 with pieces of wood and bamboo.  A photo by Sahat Zia Hero.
A wide view of massive flooding in the camps in July 2021, just days after a fire broke out.  A photo by Sahat Zia Hero.
Rohingya refugees cross a river inside the camp over a damaged bridge.  A photo by Sahat Zia Hero.

  • Clockwise from top left: refugees try to put out a fire in Kutupalong with pieces of wood and bamboo, July 2021; flooding in the camps only a few days after the same fire; Rohingya cross a river inside the camp

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

While on the run herself, Ishrat Fori Imran used her phone to capture their escape, with whatever they could, through the jungles of Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017.

Ishrat Fori Imran

  • As she fled with hundreds of thousands of others in 2017, Ishrat Fori Imran used her phone to capture their escape, using whatever they could through the jungle

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.

Ishrat Fori Imran's younger cousin performs his ablutions outside his shelter in preparation for his daily prayers
A young Rohingya girl holds her brother as she looks out at the camps that have become her home.  This photo won the Oxfam's 2021 Rohingya Art Competition.
Monsoon rains prevent Rohingya children from going to school and most instead spend their time playing outside.  Ishrat Fori Imran drenched 7-year-old Kazawli and took shelter from the heavy rain outside her tent.
A Rohingya boy enjoys the monsoon rains and dances as he immerses himself in the water pouring down from a shelter.

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 return from aid collection points with heavy bags of supplies to their shelters

Ro Yassin Abdumonaf

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.

Eight members of this family of 12 have been infected by dengue fever and are recovering in their shelter.
Rohingya workers help maintain the infrastructure and hygiene in the camp by performing essential tasks such as cleaning garbage
Some Rohingya children idle next to a concere drainage system near their shelters designed to help carry water away during heavy rains.
The lone banyan tree towering above and providing shade to the shelters around it can be seen for miles.  Most of the trees were cut down to make way for the camps when 700,000 Rohingya arrived rapidly in 2017.

  • Clockwise from top left: a family recovering from dengue fever; Rohingya workers clearing rubbish to help maintain infrastructure and hygiene in the camp; a lone banyan tree can be seen for miles. Most of the trees were cut down in 2017 to make way for the camps; a concrete drainage system designed to help channel away water during heavy rains

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

A group of Rohingya children play in the rain as it pours down outside their shelters in the refugee camps of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.

Ro Anamul Hasan

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.

A group of Rohingya students wear the uniforms of Myanmar schools as they call for justice on the 5th anniversary of the 2017 massacres that forced 700,000 people to flee to Bangladesh.  Photo by Anamul Hasan.

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

A Rohingya man carried his sick mother to a clinic in the camps.

Mayyu Khan

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.

A group of Rohingya boys play in a waterway next to their shelters after rain

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

A group of fishermen returning home after searching for a catch near the camps in Cox's Bazar.

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