In 2011, Sheikh Mohammad arrived in Malaysia and took a job in a tyre recycling factory. Not long after, he suffered an accident in the factory, which caused third-degree burns on over 60% of his body. He received no compensation from his employer, nor assistance towards the cost of his medical treatment. He also lost his income as he could no longer work. This photograph was taken one month after the accident. Mediadrumimages / Saiful Huq Omi / Schilt Publishing

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.

Rahima Khatun is a widow. When she came to Bradford in the UK, she and her daughter were both severely sick. They received medical treatment in Bradford and are now living healthy lives. If they had stayed in Bangladesh, they – like others – may have died for lack of treatment. Mediadrumimages / Saiful Huq Omi / Schilt Publishing

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.

A Rohingya worker in an ice factory in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Because it is illegal for Rohingyas to work in Bangladesh, they work informally and are exploited by their employers. Tensions between Bangladeshis and the Rohingyas are growing, with Bangladeshis complaining that the Rohingyas are ‘stealing’ their jobs. Mediadrumimages / Saiful Huq Omi / Schilt Publishing

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.

Many unregistered Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh work as fishermen in Cox’s Bazar. They have revolutionized the fishing industry. Years ago, when the industry was dependent solely on Bangladeshi fishermen, it was difficult to find people who were willing to go to sea year-round, due to the great risks involved. As the Rohingyas are so desperate for work, they have little option but to go to sea during the off-season, when conditions are rough and dangerous. Consequently, fishing in the seas off Bangladesh now happens almost all year round.
Mediadrumimages / Saiful Huq Omi / Schilt Publishing

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.

Just a week before this photograph was taken in late 2014, Saydul Islam came to Malaysia by boat. There he suffered debilitating and recurring nightmares about the treacherous month-long journey he had taken from Burma to Malaysia via a smugglers camp in Thailand. Mediadrumimages / Saiful Huq Omi / Schilt Publishing

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.

The Rohingyas arrive in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, escaping from the 2017 Rohingya persecution in Myanmar. Mediadrumimages / Saiful Huq Omi / Schilt Publishing

“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.

Shamlapur, a locality isolated from the Bangladeshi mainland, has been home to Rohingya refugees for many years. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas have settled here and work as fishermen. Mediadrumimages / Saiful Huq Omi / Schilt Publishing

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/

 

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