“The most persecuted minority in the world”:

Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

A Rohingya refugee. Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh. 2019.

In 2019, Canadian and French photographer Jennifer Chan was allowed access by the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission to document the precarious living conditions of the Rohingya in the biggest refugee camp in the world in Kutupalong, Bangladesh.   

“No security and citizenship rights, no return. Justice now!” 

– Refugee Camp Leaders

As a Muslim minority living in a Buddhist country, the Rohingya are not recognized as an ethnic group within Myanmar and have been denied citizenship rights. Since the 1990s, they have fled successive waves of violence. Over one million Rohingya have been stuck in the hilly camps around Kutupalong and Nayapara refugee camps near Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh with minimum provisions and little idea of their future. The UN has considered the Rohingya “the most persecuted minority in the world.”

I arrived at the camps in the middle of August. It was close to 40C with 100% humidity. Everyone was by the water pumps. In a country prone to cyclones and floods, the crowded camps were precarious and questions of who should shoulder the financial burden remained disputed.   

The Bangladeshi government was eager to repatriate the refugees because of financial burden, illicit drug trade, sex work, and security issues. Camp population has grown rapidly due to lack of family planning and rape by the Burmese military (55% of camp population are children and 50,000 newborns in one year). The situation was clearly unsustainable. Shortly after my visit, a second attempt at repatriation failed again. Verification was cleared, buses were standing, but no one showed up. Camp leaders insisted: No security and citizenship rights, no return. Justice now! Fear, distrust, and trauma were clearly visible on the faces of many residents. 

In March 2021, a fire spread across the Balukhali camp in Kutupalong, killing at least fifteen and displacing over 45,000 refugees. The camp conditions are clearly unsustainable, but for now there is no political solution.

This project is part of an ongoing long-term series on the global refugee crisis.

All Content © 2023 by Jennifer Chan

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