By Mark McConville
HEARTBREAKING photographs have shone a light on the plight of the persecuted Rohingya people of Myanmar who had to flee the country but found conditions little better elsewhere.
The striking pictures show a man with who suffered third-degree burns on over 60 per cent of his body in an accident in the tyre recycling factory he worked at in Malaysia but received no compensation, another who suffered recurring nightmares about the treacherous month-long journey he had to endure from Myanmar to Malaysia via a smuggler’s camp in Thailand and a Rohingya worker in an ice factory in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Other stirring images show Rohingya fishermen who have revolutionised the industry in Bangladesh as they are so desperate for work they will go to sea all year round despite the conditions, a family who had been smuggled into Bangladesh but were deported back to Myanmar the morning after the photo was taken and a child of ‘nowhere’ as the Rohingyans have been a stateless community for decades as they are not considered legal citizens of any state.
The remarkable photographs are showcased in Saiful Huq Omi’s book, 136 – I Am Rohingya, published by Schilt Publishing.
The Rohingya are Muslim people from the Rakhine State, Myanmar. According to the Rohingyas and some scholars, they are indigenous to Rakhine State, while other historians claim that the group represents a mixture of precolonial and colonial immigrations. The official stance of the Myanmar government is that the Rohingyas are mainly illegal immigrants.
The title of this book, 136, refers to the Myanmar government officially declaring only 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, not including Rohingyas. In 1982 the Burmese government revoked the citizenship of Rohingya people leaving them stateless.
Saiful Huq Omi started to document the lives of the Rohingyas almost a decade ago and has showcased their stories in different parts of the world.
“136, I am Rohingya” honours the mission of strengthening the identity of the community that is being threatened and adds to its collective memory, shows its traditions, raises awareness, tells stories of abuse and tragedies. Ultimately, it shows an incredible commitment to the fight of these people and a level of humanity, so necessary in these of times of turbulence.
Saiful Huq Omi is a photographer, filmmaker, educator and activist. Founder of the photography school Counter Foto, he was born in Bangladesh in 1980. The recipient of multiple awards and grants, Omi’s work on the Rohingyas has won him a global reputation as a tireless campaigner for human rights.
136 – I Am Rohingya by Saiful Huq Omi is published by Schilt Publishing, available in stores and online for around £38 (€45). Signed copies are available only here: https://www.schiltpublishing.com/shop/books/136-i-am-rohingya-signed/