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Fleeing Burma: Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh


[Editors Note: The Burmese state of Rakhine is currently experiencing a humanitarian crisis as minority Rohingya Muslims clash with ethnic Rakine Buddhists. The violence has so far left scores dead, and sent tens of thousands of refugees over the border into Bangladesh.

In our Summer 2011 issue, World Policy Journal featured a photo essay by Saiful Huq Omi in which he documented the lives of Rohingya refugees already in Bangladesh (PDF), who had fled persecution at the hands of the military junta that rules Burma.

Though preferable in many ways to the oppression they faced in Burma (now officially known as Myanmar), life in Bangladesh is extremely difficult for the Rohingya, many of whom are denied legal status as refugees. Some Rohingya, however, have been granted asylum in places where conditions are less dire, including Britain.

Omi also spent time with a small community of Rohingya now living in Bradford, a city of around 300,000 residents in Northern England.]


Every evening, Rohingya gather in the city center of Bradford to chat and socialize.


Life in Bradford is very different from the experience of persecution in  Burma and the misery of camps in Bangladesh. It is full of new hopes and possibilities—along with the challenges of feeling at home in a strange new society and culture.


“You have been to the camps, right? Now we have this,” marvels Aiub, a Rohingya woman whose family was resettled in Bradford. “Whenever I think about it, I thank Allah for the life I have now.”


For the lucky few children who have been resettled there, Bradford is like a dream compared to the harsh reality of life in Burma or Bangladesh.


Still, social integration is a long process. Some members of the large Pakistani immigrant community in Bradford have been unwelcoming to the Rohingya. As a result, Rohingya children usually play only with each other.  Sometimes, they just play alone.


Rakibul learned karate when he was in the camp in Bangladesh. He now practices in Bradford.


Most Rohingya in Bradford prefer to live close to one another. But Salim’s house is far from other Rohingya houses. Salim believes this is better for him and his family because his children will play with and grow up with kids of other nationalities.


On an autumn afternoon, Aman Ullah takes a walk in the park in front of his home. Winter is coming, and with it the snow. “This is the only time of the year to enjoy the sun and to have some outdoor life,” he says.


All photos © Saiful Huq Omi.

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