Thursday, May 17, 2012

No country to call home

River NaafOn the Run From Oppression in Burma Long persecuted in their native land, the stateless Rohingya have sought sanctuary across the globe.

Saiful Huq Omi, a photographer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, first focused on Burma's Rohingya refugees in 2009, when he began documenting their lives in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. The Rohingya—an ethnic, religious, and linguistic minority from Burma's northern Rakhine State—have been persecuted for decades; nearly a million of them are estimated to reside in Burma, while another half million have sought refuge in Bangladesh. Smaller populations have fled to other countries.

The 1982 Citizenship Law of Burma stripped the Rohingya of their nationality, making them legally stateless. As Amal de Chickera, the head of the Statelessness and Nationality Projects for the Equal Rights Trust, explained in a recent conversation with Omi: "While many individual citizens of Burma experience human rights violations, the Rohingya are specifically targeted and face discrimination as a group. Outside of Burma most Rohingya are irregular migrants with no legal status. Because they are stateless they have to travel illegally, and are thus targeted and often become victims of arbitrary detention, deportation, extortion, trafficking, and smuggling."
What Omi found especially striking from his encounters with the Rohingya was a pervasive and enduring sense of uncertainty among them about having no country to call home. How have these people coped with that agony for so many years? "Other than the resettled community in Bradford, UK," he says, "no one knew their future."
These photographs were taken between 2009 and 2011. Beginning in late May, Omi will travel again to various Rohingya enclaves to continue the documentary project

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