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Doha photo exhibition sheds light on life of Rohingya refugees

Doha photo exhibition sheds light on life of Rohingya refugees

Doha, Qatar – A rainbow forming over thatched huts, children frolicking on dusty streets, women being busy with household chores – these are just some of the scenes on display inside a major art space in the heart of Qatar’s capital.

Taken by three young Rohingya refugees – Omal Khair, Dil Kayas and Azimul Hasson – the award-winning images are exhibited at Tasweer, a biennial photo festival in Doha.

They capture daily life at the world’s largest refugee camp at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, painting a picture of hope and resilience.

More than a million Rohingya have been living in difficult conditions at the refugee camp after fleeing persecution and a brutal crackdown by the army in neighbouring Myanmar 2017.

Nearly six years on, the largely Muslim ethnic minority are confined to the severely overcrowded and unsanitary living spaces with little hope of returning to their homeland in Myanmar. Authorities in the host nation, meanwhile, are increasingly imposing restrictions on their movements.

Azimul Hasson
Azimul Hasson [Courtesy Azimul Hasson]

“I want to tell the world the situation of my people in the refugee camp,” 20-year-old Hasson told Al Jazeera over the phone from Cox’s Bazaar.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” he added, referring to the exhibition running at M7, a fashion and design hub, until May 20.

The three photographers have been documenting life at the camp since becoming media fellows with the Fortify Rights NGO and the Doha Debates platform in 2018.

The images, which were posted on their Instagram accounts, were compiled into A Chance to Breathe, a book published in August last year to mark five years since the Myanmar’s army crackdown.

Vanessa Chong, of Fortify Rights, said the project was conceived with the goal of supporting budding refugee photographers and equipping them with “skills and equipment to tell their stories”.

“And over the course of the last few years, we have been training them several times and trying to curate their pictures so that the photos best present them,” she told Al Jazeera.

Jigar Mehta, the deputy managing director of Doha Debates, said he believed the project could become a template and inspire others to amplify refugee voices.

“If you look at the photos they created in the beginning versus the kind of content they are creating now it’s completely transformed because they have just grown themselves as photographers,” he told Al Jazeera.

Rohingya photographers exhibition
Some of the images featured at the A Chance to Breathe exhibition [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Charlotte Cotton, Tasweer’s artistic director, said the audience’s response to the photographers’ work has been incredible.

“People are coming specifically for the show,” she told Al Jazeera.

“The general reason why we are doing this is to honour and celebrate three photographers who may tell extraordinary tales in an absolutely unique way,” added Cotton.

The Rohingya photographers have also been commissioned to contribute photos to a pop-up exhibition for Doha Fashion Fridays, a project that involves photographing migrant workers on the day of their rest.

Khair, Kayas and Hasson were trained to take fashion portraits in their community during Ramadan and Eid.

Rohingya photographers exhibition
The exhibition runs until May 20 [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Speaking from the camp, Hasson said there was a growing anxiety among residents about their future.

“There is no future for Rohingya youth here, as there is no facility available for them,” he said.

Hasson still remembers the day he fled his village in the Maungdaw district of Rakhine State.

“It was early morning of November 25, 2017, when the military came to my village, Boli Bazar, [and] started firing on villagers. Terrified people started to flee to save their lives. I saw many people falling down after being hit by bullets,” he recalled.

Only a young teenager at the time, Hasson ran into a rice field to save himself.

Now, he said he wanted to return home without the fear of being attacked.

“All we want is that we go back to our homeland in Myanmar and live in harmony and peace with other communities.”

Back at the, A Chance to Breathe, exhibition, Mehta said it has been gratifying to work with the three young photographers and urged viewers to engage with their work.

“It will help make a little bit of a shift in [the] thinking about what it means to be a refugee.”

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