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Letters from Arakan: The Intimate Stories of Rohingya Refugees

Have you heard of Adib Chowdhury? No? Okay, let us enlighten you: Hidden through the endless stream of photographs on your social feed sits a young man’s coverage of the Rohingya crisis – a collection of stories of the suffering and hardship faced along the Bangladesh-Burma border. Chowdhury is an Ummahsonic superstar, having reported previously for us, so if you haven’t heard of him, then get with the program.

Chowdhury recently opened an exhibition at the Brick Lane art gallery in East London – called ‘Letters from Arakan’ – which tells the intimate stories of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in the Rakhine state in Burma. The compelling exhibition showcases portraits, handwritten letters, audio recordings and a series of photos that tell the harrowing stories of survival against all odds. The event also featured speakers on the crisis, including Britain Helps and local MP Mark Field.

Not impressed with the lack of press-coverage of the crisis, Chowdhury, spent months making his way through camps, roadsides, hospitals and paddy fields so that the world could gain a glimpse into the real-life suffering which was taking place.

His work presents human faces and voices to the hardship and survival of those fleeing the death and destruction in Rakhine. Why does he think that’s such an important thing to do? “As I reported along the border, making my way through camps, along roadsides, hospitals, and paddy fields, I felt that the Rohingya’s own voices were lacking in my coverage,” he says writing in online publication Roads & Kingdoms.

The exhibition will be open from the 23rd – 29th March in London’s Brick Lane Gallery, but just in case you can’t make it – here are some of the personal stories that Chowdhury has shared with the world…

Name: Munwara Begum
Age: 20
Location: Boli Bazar, Myanmar

“I am Munwara Begum from Boli Bazar, Burma. I fled on Aug. 25 to Bangladesh fearing for my life and came with my young children.


Name: Mohammed
Age: 34
Location: Rathedaung, Myanmar

“The Burmese military burnt my house down and then told me that Burma is not my country. They told me to get out of their land, but I don’t know anywhere else that is home. Now me and my family don’t know where else we can go.”

Name: Mohammed Yahya and Mohammed Anas
Age: 22 and 13
Location: Mirullha, Myanmar

(Translation of audio): “My name is Mohammed Yahya. We want our rights back. Aung San Suu Kyi and the Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing have forced us to leave our country. We are not Bangladeshi like they say…. we were born in Arakan. Our parents were also born in Arakan. We want to go back to our land. The military, police, and other authorities have the power to grant us our basic rights. We want to work and live in Rathedaung, Buthidaung, and Maungdaw like ordinary citizens. We want to live in our way just like the other ethnic groups can do in Burma.”

Name: Nur Mohammed
Age: 75
Location: Kor Khali, Maungdaw, Myanmar

“A while back, the Burmese government gave us assurances that they would give us citizenship rights, but they lied. We demanded that the citizenship rights should be granted to our Rohingya identity but they denied it and they tortured us cruelly for it. We cannot have our Rohingya identity in Burma, but others outside accept us as Rohingya. Burma has always been our home. And now as we ask for the right to our identity again, the government launches attacks on us again. They burn our villages, they force us to leave our land, even Aung San Suu Kyi does not accept us our rights despite supporting her in previous years.”


Name: Nur
Age: 6
From: Maungdaw District, Myanmar

(Translation of audio): “The Burmese military and Buddhists burnt our house with mortar fire. The rockets fired into the house by the military burned her leg. I feel upset from living in unrest as they burnt everything we have, and we don’t even have the expenses to pay for our medical treatment. We don’t want anything, but just to return to our country. I just want the world to know that I want to go back home and that the Burmese government is responsible for burning down everything in our lives. I cannot even cry anymore as my eyes no longer have the tears to fill them now.

“We have lost our family members and I don’t know where many others are. My brother is also lost… they have destroyed everything, how will it be possible to go back? This is what I am concerned about now. We are suffering here (in Bangladesh) a lot…suffering from a lack of food and clean water. The hospital here is lacking equipment. The message I have is to tell the world I want to go back home [to Myanmar] and that I want the same for my fellow brothers and sisters.”

The exhibition runs until 29th March in London’s Brick Lane Gallery. You can find out more about Adib Chowdhury by visiting his website or following him on Twitter or Facebook.

Featured image credit: Adib Chowdhury

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