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Myanmar’s Stateless Muslims Struggle to Find a Home — Photos

March 23, 2015

By CHELSEA MATIASH | WSJ

Photojournalist Rubén Salgado Escudero documents daily life in a displacement camp for Rohingya Muslims

 

When the United Nations agreed to assist Myanmar in conducting the country’s first census over 30 years, its government recognized 135 distinct ethnic groups among its 53 million residents. Although comprising of a population of 1.3 million—the equivalent of the U.S. city of San Diego—the Rohingya Muslim minority was notably absent from the list. Viewed as illegal immigrants by authorities, Rohingya Muslims have long suffered from sectarian violence and discrimination.

 

The Dar Paing camp in Sittwe in November. Shacks there which were meant to be used for displaced Rohingya people temporarily are falling apart. PHOTO: RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

The deep-seated tensions between the religious sectors burst into the public eye when Myanmar’s military regime came to an end three years ago and a newfound freedom of speech fueled the clashes. The Rohingya’s plight has become an international human rights concern.

 

 

Rohingya men stand outside a temporary mosque at the camp, where prayer services are held fives times a day. PHOTO: RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

Extremists within the Buddhist majority have isolated and targeted Rohingyas, forcing more than 140,000 into crowded displacement camps without access to aid over the last two years. Tens of thousands, without hope of gaining citizenship, have fled, largely by boat, to escape the violence and discrimination that has left more than 200 dead.

“The living situation in the camps are grim,” said Spanish-born photojournalist Rubén Salgado Escudero, who visited Rohingya IDP camps near Rakhine in November.

 

Abdul Rashid and Rohima Begum pose with their children on the Bay of Bengali. After living at an IDP camp for more than two years, they will risk their lives to flee for Malaysia over these waters in hopes of a better life for their children. PHOTO: RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

“Most people have no form of income, most children have no schools to go to, there is still a lack of medical attention and supplies and food is reduced monthly oil, rice, salt and bean rations. The tents where the Rohingya live are falling to shreds as they were only built temporarily in 2013 to be used for no longer than one year.”

Mr. Salgado Escudero, who is based in Myanmar, witnessed families “spending all their life savings and risking their lives by trying to escape the camps in the middle of the night by boat.”

“I had a deep sensation of helplessness and frustration,” he said. “Seeing thousands of people who are unjustly being detained, being guarded by heavily armed police, with nowhere to go, and no future, is a very hard meal to chew.”

 

A girl stands on a haystack overlooking Dar Paing Camp for displaced people. PHOTO: RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

 

He continued: “One always hopes that by giving voice to those who don’t, that it will reach people who can actually influence and change things for the better of the people. The reality is though that sometimes being a witness and telling a story doesn’t feel like it’s really enough.”

Life in the dirty camps forges onward, though, Mr. Salgado Escudero observed. “It must be said though that I saw a formidable example of human’s ability to survive and adapt. The camps are micro-societies where village daily life goes on.”

 

Rohingya boys and men pray at the camp’s temporary mosque. PHOTO: RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

A woman collects water in Ohn Taw Gyi IDP camp. More than 140,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced into crowded displacement camps without access to aid over the last two years. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

Rohingya men pray in Baw Du Ba IDP camp. The camp has a temporary mosque where prayer services are held five times a day. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

Khaironisa, center, and her sisters Surunisa, left, and Guktas stand in their shack at Dar Paing IDP Camp. When violence broke out in 2012, Surunisa’s husband was killed by local police and Khaironisa’s husband fled to Malaysia. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

A 6-month-old child suffers from diarrhea for a fifth day. Many children and elderly die from treatable illnesses in the camp, due to the lack of access to medical aid. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

Boys start a fire early in the morning at the camp. ‘It must be said though that I saw a formidable example of human’s ability to survive and adapt. The camps are micro-societies where village daily life goes on,’ Mr. Salgado Escudero observed. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

Residents walk past the camp latrines. ‘The tents where the Rohingya live are falling to shreds as they were only built temporarily in 2013 to be used for no longer than one year,’ Mr. Salgado Escudero said. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

Fishermen fix up their boats at the local jetty near Dar Paing IDP Camp. The downtrodden Rohingya are increasingly losing hope in attaining citizenship, with tens of thousands fleeing the country by boat. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

A man herds his goats in the outskirts of Dar Paing IDP Camp. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO

 

Two brothers eat breakfast in their dilapidated tent. The ongoing discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority has become a top human rights concern amidst the rising intolerance and stalled reforms in Myanmar. RUBÉN SALGADO ESCUDERO