The Disowned and the Denied
After Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948, civil war broke out when many ethnic nationalities and the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) took up arms against the central government headed by U Nu. In Rakhine State, both Rakhine and Muslim groups formed armed opposition groups that fought against the government. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the Tatmadaw, or Burmese army, captured the main positions of these groups, and reached cease-fire agreements with the Muslim organizations.
For decades, Burma’s military junta—led by members of the Burman ethnic majority—has refused to recognize the Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority living in western Burma, as one of the country’s many ethnic nationalities. As a result, Rohingya have suffered human rights violations and a vast majority of them have been denied official recognition of citizenship.
Rohingya are subjected to countless forms of discrimination, including extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and destruction of their homes; and restrictions on marriage and movement. Rohingya continue to be used as forced laborers on roads and at military camps.
In 1978, a Burmese army campaign of killing, rape, destruction of mosques, and religious persecution drove 167,000 Rohingya across Burma’s porous border with Bangladesh. Under intense international pressure, the Burmese government eventually allowed many of the Rohingya who had fled to return. But from 1991 to 1992, a new wave of Burmese repression forced over 250,000 Rohingya to flee back into Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, the UNHCR officially recognizes approximately 28,000 Rohingya as refugees. They live in squalid camps where medical care is inadequate, where the majority of children and adults suffer from malnutrition, and where employment within or beyond the camp is forbidden. Access to formal education is rare and women are vulnerable to sexual violence and forced marriage. The great majority of Rohingya in Bangladesh live outside the camps; they fight for survival in the face of ill health and abuse, including exploitation by recruiters for Muslim fundamentalist groups. Rejected by the Bangladeshi government and fearing persecution in Burma, it is estimated that close to half a million Rohingya are living illegally in Bangladesh.
Very recently with the support of the international agencies, donors and human rights organizations, Rohingyas have been resettling in the USA, UK, Sweden, and Australia and to few other countries in Europe.
Soon after Saiful Huq Omi (Born 1980, Bangladesh) finishes his masters from the Tele Communication Engineering Department, he received his diploma from Pathshala and decided to become a photographer in 2005. He is represented by Polaris Images.
Omi's works have been published in Newsweek, Foto File USA, New Internationalist, Time Magazine, The Guardian, Asian Photography and Arab News. He has worked for International NGOs and Aid Organizations like UNICEF, UNHCR, Action Aid, and USAID and for many other local ones. Omi's photography has been exhibited in galleries of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, UK, and USA and in the Netherlands and in Australia.
He is has won the All Roads National Geographic Award for his works on political violence in Bangladesh in 2006, as well as the FK award and award of excellence from China in 2008.