WARNING: Some images in this gallery may be disturbing because of their graphic nature.
The Rohingya may be the most well-known forgotten people on earth. The minority Muslim community living along Burma’s western border has been discriminated against for decades by the central Burmese state. Their plight is well-documented, but that has changed few of the grim facts on the ground. These pictures, provided by Reuters, come from a number of camps for the internally displaced in Burma’s western Arakan state, also known as Rakhine, that are home now to tens of thousands of Rohingya who fled recent rounds of ethnic mob violence.
The images show the deplorable living conditions there, made far worse after the forced removal of foreign NGO aid workers, some of whom were expelled by Burmese authorities in February. Hunger and malnutrition stalk the camps, leaving infant children most vulnerable. According to one aid worker whom Reuters cites in the Kyein Ni Pin camp, six infants have died there in the weeks since doctors from Medecins Sans Frontieres were ordered out of the country.
The Rohingya are looked upon by many other Burmese as Bengali interlopers illegally living in a foreign land; most Rohingya are denied Burmese citizenship. But the vast majority of the roughly 1.3 million people considered Rohingya who live in Burma have called Arakan state home for generations. Tomás Ojea Quintana, a U.N. special rapporteur, surveyed the situation earlier this month in the wake of the withdrawal of aid workers. He documented food shortages and the lack of access to water and to adequate medical care. The conditions, he said, were part of a “long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya Muslim community, which could amount to crimes against humanity.”
Sectarian and ethnic strife have shadowed Burma’s slow transition to democracy after years of brutal military dictatorship. A strident Buddhist nationalism, fueled by some particularly radical characters, is in part to blame. In March of 2013, Buddhist mobs reportedly targeted Muslim neighborhoods — Muslims who were not ethnic Rohingya — in the central Burmese town of Meikhtila after a local dispute at a gold shop. At least 43 people were killed in what some described as a fiery pogrom, the worst single incident in a wave of violence that has led to more than 300 deaths and prompted at least 140,000 to flee their homes in recent years.
Some have been dismayed by the relative silence of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Nobel laureate, a champion of democracy and now the lead opposition figure in parliament. Meanwhile, the Rohingya suffer in the margins, not totally forgotten, but largely devoid of help and hope.