Exiled to Nowhere – Burma’s Rohingya: Voices from a Ten Day Photo Exhibition

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

“Rohingya people who are living in Myanmar don’t have rights. Even a bird has rights. A bird can build a nest, give birth, bring food to their children and raise them until they are ready to fly. We don’t have basic rights like this.” Monir, Rohingya Man

Visitor looking at the photo of a man blind in one eye after being beaten in the head during forced labor

Standing in the middle of the exhibition hall of Cemara 6 Galeri Rahman could not hold back his tears, surrounded by 36 black and white photographs each portraying a story of his people, living in poverty without rights and protection given by anyone. Being denied citizenship status since 1982 and being exposed to human rights violations, forced labor and violence, many without any birth certificates or identity cards, Rohingya people fled Myanmar just to encounter more rejection, abuse and poverty. Like Rahman there are hundreds of thousands Rohingya living in exile in this world. Over 1300 are currently in Indonesia seeking international protection as Refugees by UNHCR. But even here they encounter a difficult situation, initial welcome from Indonesian people was not yet followed up by the Indonesian government leaving them without any legal recognition as guests in Indonesia. Over 360 of them are held in Immigration detention centers in prison like conditions for entering Indonesia without legal documents. As no country in this world stands up for their rights as citizens or humans they are treated as strangers wherever they go.

The exhibition in central Jakarta as a collaboration between photographer Greg Constantine, Suaka, JRS and Cemara 6 Gallery Jakarta invited people to learn and discuss about the situation of Rohingya in Myanmar, South Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Greg Constantine, photographer that documented the situation of Rohingya over the last 8 years explains at a seminar at Trisakti University about his photographs of Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh: “I do honestly belief this is the most extreme situation of statelessness and denial of citizenship in the world today and I also think it is one of the most serious examples of human rights abuse in Asia if not the world today.” “My focus has been statelessness. What is it like, to be a human-being that has been denied fundamental rights, the right to an identity, the right to belong to the country of your birth, the denial of the right to have rights. I try to give a face, to humanize this very complex issue. The rights of a person are attached to the right to be a citizen.”

“Seeing photos from Exiled to Nowhere makes me cry. For me whatever religion someone has we all have a right to live. The condition of Rohingya people is so saddening and I would like to ask the Indonesian government to help by providing humanitarian aid. As the host of the ASEAN secretariat there should be a way for the Indonesian government to push Myanmar to provide a space for Rohingya people. As we are created by God every human has a right to live in this world and is not to be brutally driven away without any support from anywhere. If I could ask one favor from the government of Myanmar it would be: please provide some space for Rohingya people. I feel they have potential to contribute much to Myanmar society. ASEAN should be stricter with Myanmar.” Reflects Nisa after seeing photos and reading the captions in the exhibition.

“I see the prolonged situation of Rohingya people as a national scandal for the government of Myanmar, and an international scandal for the United Nations and ASEAN. Persons that are not accepted by any country in the world as citizens are not given the rights they deserve as humans. As without citizenship no civil rights are guaranteed. We should advocate for the rights of Rohingya people as it is a humanitarian calling.” stated Fr. Franz Magnis-Suseno SJ during an event the last day of the exhibition.

“We tend to forget that there are Rohingya people in Indonesia as well, and all of them are again treated as strangers and illegals yet again. It does not make sense to me that Indonesia does not provide any status for Rohingya and other refugees, they are held in Immigration detention centers, their children cannot access education, or health services. Like Greg Constantine who with his photos reminds us that this is a humanitarian tragedy, Suaka wants to promote a humanitarian perspective. When people come to Indonesia to seek international protection as refugees in fear of persecution in home countries, we should welcome them in the name of humanity – never should we label them as illegal and deprive them yet again of their human rights. Indonesian society should act like as a host, providing help that is real, not seeing them as a threat or count what benefit we can get from their presence.”

Lars Stenger

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