Witnessing the Rohingya’s Invisible Genocide

The mother, pictured here, claimed all her children were malnourished, but because of the lack of medical professionals in the area, it was impossible to confirm.

Moriam Katu, 50, who is gravely ill from severe asthma, is comforted by her daughters and other loved ones in the Ba Du Paw camp for Internally Displaced Rohingya around Sittwe, in Myanmar. Moriam was so ill, she could barely breathe, and began coughing up blood.

She visited the emergency hospital at the That Kay Pin within the IDP camp, and there were not sufficient resources to treat her there. The medical advisor offered to transfer her to the government hospital in Sittwe, but she declined, because her family did not have enough money to keep her there.

Witnessing the Rohingya’s Invisible Genocide Lynsey Addario photographed the plight of Burma's Rohingya
A Rohingya family, Burmese Muslims, live in the Thay Chaung camp for the Internally Displaced outside of Sittwe, which houses nearly 3000 people, November 23, 2015. The mother, pictured here, claimed all her children were malnourished, but because of the lack of medical professionals in the area, it was impossible to confirm. (Credit: Lynsey Addario for The Annenberg Space for Photography)

While her medical treatment would be free, her guardian would need to pay for food, which they estimated would be 20-30000 for food for a week. She declined and went back home. A few days later, she returned, and was transferred to Sittwe hospital, and died 10 days later.
Sumeir, 35, is comforted by her daughter as she lies semi-conscious on the floor of her family’s home a few days after surgery at the Sittwe hospital, outside of the Thay Chaung camp, Sittwe, Myanmar, Nov. 24, 2015.

For many years, Sumeir suffered from excruciating stomach pain. She went to the That Kay Pyin Emmergency hospital within the IDP camp, and was referred to Sittwe hospital, outside of the camp.

She was operated on a few days prior in Sittwe, and quickly discharged and returned to the IDP camp at Thay Chaung, allegedly without post-operative care, information about her condition, and without medication for healing. She passed away the day after this picture was taken.

“We are not dogs, we are not cows, we are people. There is a difference in how they treat us. They leave us to our own devices.” In the hospital, there is a lot of discrimination,” Azumeir says.

The Rohingya in Myanmar are routinely denied proper medical care—within the camps around Sittwe, the only available medical care is at the emergency hospital, and both medical staff and prescription drugs are limited. Anyone with a serious condition may be referred to Sittwe, but the Rohingya often don’t trust government hospitals, and do not have the money to pay for meals and any additional expenses outside of treatment. Lack of medical care is one of the biggest concerns for the Rohingya.
Rohingya woman Shahda Begham, 25, poses for a portrait with Jannatara, 2, one of three daughters, in a home in an informal settlement in Shamlipur, in Bangladesh, Jan. 10, 2016.

Shahda was living in Mongdo with her husband when their village was overrun by violence. Military came in and shot her husband–killing him–and took her and several other women into the forest and raped her repeatedly.

“The military beat us; if somebody didn’t want to go, it was rape. They tortured me in the forest; even when they pulled us from the bush they beat us.”

She later fled to Bangladesh with her three children. The Rohingya are systematically marginalized, and forced into formal and makeshift camps across Bangladesh and Myanmar. They often occupy hard labor jobs, like riding cycle rickshaws, working in the ice factories, fishing, and manual labor jobs they pick up daily.

I witnessed three funerals in four days in a small area of the camps in the Rakhine state for the Rohingya, Myanmar’s Muslim minority, in November 2015. Each of those deaths would have been easily preventable with access to basic health care. I followed another woman, Moriam Katu, for five days, and watched her suffocate slowly from asthma, gasping for breath, begging for help from the doctor that hadn’t shown up that day as she sat propped up against the wall in the one accessible emergency clinic, then coughing up blood surrounded by her daughters back at home. She died a few weeks after I left.

An estimated one million stateless Rohingya have been stripped of their citizenship in Myanmar and forced to live in modern-day concentration camps, surrounded by government military checkpoints. They are not able to leave, to work outside the camps, do not have access to basic medical care or food. Most aid groups are banned from entering or working in the camps, leaving the Rohingya to their own devices for sustenance and healthcare. Journalists are also routinely denied access, Myanmar’s way of ensuring the world doesn’t see the slow, intentional demise of a population.

Many Rohingya from Myanmar have managed to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people live in dismal, over-crowded makeshift camps and rudimentary settlements along Bangladesh’s southern tip near the Myanmar border. They live in a constant state of fear they will be imprisoned or deported.

After six days photographing the settlements and camps in and around Cox’s bazaar, my translator received a call from Bangladesh’s military intelligence. His message was clear: they had been patient with me for several days, but their patience had run out. No more photographs of the Rohingya.

I have spent the better part of the last sixteen years photographing human suffering, human rights abuses and, all too often, displaced civilians and refugees fleeing from war or persecution. But I have seldom seen the systematic oppression and abuse of an entire population go almost entirely unaided and undocumented. The camps and settlements in Myanmar and Bangladesh are conspicuously bereft of the international aid community and, consequently, a countless number of Rohingya are dying undocumented. This is the invisible genocide.

Lynsey Addario, a frequent TIME contributor, is a photographer represented by Verbatim. These images are from Refugee: a Photo Exhibition by the Annenberg Space for Photography, currently on display at Newseum in Washington.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s International Photo Editor.

Witnessing the Rohingya’s Invisible Genocide

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