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Rohingya. Myanmar’s internally displaced. Photo essay by Phil Behan

April 28, 2013 /Photography
/ The endless persecution of Muslim Rohingya continues in
Myanmar’s Rakhine state and now they face further hardship as the monsoon
season approaches the South East Asian country.
Community members in the remote river village
of Inbargyi in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Locals say the village was attacked by
a large group of people in October and several thousand people fled during the
violence. The local Mosque was also burned to the ground. Copyright: P.Behan /
Life in such an environment is not easy at this time of year, but when
also faced with the constant threat of attack, torture and life in a sprawling
dusty refugee camp, it suddenly becomes intolerable. Unfortunately for over
100, 000 Muslim Rohingya this is a daily reality as thousands have been
displaced from their homes since ethnic fighting between Rohingya and Rakine
Buddhists broke out across Myanmar’s Rakhine State in June 2012.
Verse’s of the Koran burned in the violence in the remote river village
of Inbargyi in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Locals say the village was attacked by
a large group of people in October and several thousand people fled during the
violence. The local Mosque was also burned to the ground and most say they are
in desperate need of food and clothing items. Copyright:
P.Behan / UNHCR
The Rohingya have been classified by the United Nations as one of the
most persecuted minorities in the world and evidence of this is clearly visible
in the refugee camps situated near the provincial Rakhine capital of Sittwe.
Everybody here has a story, from the old women who frailly wander the refugee
camps during the blistering day time heat, to the young children blissfully
playing between the rows of makeshift tents.
A woman amongst the crowds in the remote river village of Gotepitaung in
Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Most families lost all their possessions and nearly
all had their house burned to the ground during the recent violence. A total of
116 families live in the village and over 100 families were affected by the
recent conflict in Oct 2012. Many houses were looted and ransacked during the
violence and as a result the village has no access to proper sanitation and the
drinking water levels are running low. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR
Thousands in the camps bear the scars of horrific violence, while others
have lost entire families. Many Rohingya on the back of such a faith have decided to flee
Myanmar. An estimated 27,800 of them mostly from Rakhine state have left on
risky boat journeys from the Bay of Bengal. Hundreds are believed to have
drowned en route and many more have landed in countries like Thailand, Malaysia
and Indonesia.
A distressed Rohingya  woman and her family living alongside 32
others in two tents in the remote river village of Nabu Khan situated some 3
hours by boat from Sittwe. The conditions in this village were particularly
bad. Two large makeshift tents housed over 32 families living on top of each
other. The total population of the village is 2480 with some 480 families
already hosting IDP’s from the conflict. So far the villagers say they have
received no assistance from any organisation and need food and access to
medical supplies as soon as possible. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR
So what’s being done?
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees along with other NGO’s
and organisations are firmly on the ground assisting and providing relief to
thousands of Internally Displaced Persons but their resources are stretched to
near breaking point. Most Refugees are situated near the provincial capital of
Sittwe, but others are much further afield in townships such as Mugadaw which
are situated far from the capital. Most if not all the camps are at near
capacity and increased international and local financial aid is badly required.
Many of the camps lack basic sanitation facilities and also proper access to
education and medical services are in dire need.
Committee members check NFI (Non Food Item) distribution lists in
Palinbyin Village near Sittwe in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The village is home
to over 822 families and many complain they are receiving no non food items.
The UNHCR field teams continue to investigate the issues faced by the people in
the village. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR
Mohammed Inasnu tells UNHCR staff he had no food for 7 days and has lost
all of his possessions during the recent violence in Sittwe. His family was
displaced from their original village of Jyaenaysu and he says he was also
attacked by Rakhine people. They are now located in the Thet Khal Pyin Refugee
camp near Sittwe in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR
So how can it be resolved?
There is no overnight solution to this problem, and for the time being
the faith of thousands of Rohingya remains uncertain, but what is needed
immediately is International assistance in setting up dialogue between both
communities to at least simmer the violence and allow agencies such as UNHCR
and other organisations to continue to provide relief and assistance to the
thousands of already Internally Displaced Persons within the country. Until
such occurs, Rakhine remains on a knife edge.
Rasoul Banu aged 75 years old in the Thet Khal Pyin Refugee camp. Rasoul
was displaced from her original village of Raggon during October’s violence.
She is deeply distressed by these recent events and says she has no home or
possessions to return too. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR
A Rohingya woman and her family in Saydharmar village in Myanmar’s
Rahkine State. Since the fighting broke out in October 2012, thousands of
Rohingya and their families have been displaced to temporary camps and shelters
near Sittwe. Most are in desperate need of access to medical and sanitation
services. Copyright: P.Behan / UNHCR
Written by Phil. Behan
Sources: United Nations / UNHCR / Norwegian Refugee Council
About the photographer:
Phil Behan is a freelance photographer based in Guangzhou, China. The
body of Phil’s work is focused mainly around documentary photography with a
particular focus on stories about displacement, Integration and Refugee issues.
The majority of his work has been published by the UNHCR and United Nations
Phil also has a keen interest in Saharan travel and mountaineering. He
has travelled extensively in remote sections of the desert, areas of which
include Algeria’s Immidir and Tefedest regions, Mauritania’s Majabat Region,
Niger’s Tenere area and Mali’s Northern Deserts.
Previous clients include, The World Food Programme, Save the Children,
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), The International
Organisation for Migration(IOM) UNDP, Unicef, UNESCO, Merip (Middle East Review
Magazine), World Vision (Jordan), Jesuit Refugee Service, Afghan Scene
Magazine, Focus Ireland, FID (UK) and The World Bank.
Newswires and magazines publications include Al-Jazeera In-Pictures, The
Shot Magazine Ireland, The Irish Times, BBC In Pictures, The Irish Examiner,
Independent on Sunday, The Limerick Leader and The Washington Diplomat.