Myanmar’s Rohingya: The plea of the Stateless

‘Exiled to Nowhere’: One of the exhibited photos by American photographer Greg Constantine presents the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group.

The exhibition, called “Exiled to Nowhere” and held at the Cemara 6 Galeri in Menteng, Central Jakarta, features bleak, black and white images taken by American photographer Greg Constantine of the ethnic group that has remained stateless and persecuted in its Myanmar homeland.

In 1982, the Myanmar government revoked the citizenship of the Rohingya, whom it claims were imported from Bangladesh to work the fields during the British colonial period.

“One of the most important intentions of the exhibition is to contribute to the conversation about the Rohingya and refugees, to add information and build on questions about the issue,” Constantine said at the opening of the exhibition, which runs until Feb. 16.
Constantine has spent the past eight years photographing the Rohingya on both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border as part of his long-term project “Nowhere People”, which aims to highlight the struggle of stateless communities around the world.

His work has received numerous awards, including awards in Pictures of the Year International (POYi), NPPA Best of Photojournalism, Px3: Prix de la Photographie, Paris and the International Photography Awards.

Constantine said that the Rohingya embodied the most extreme example of statelessness.

Decades of exclusion, the denial of basic and fundamental rights and myriad humanitarian abuses against the Rohingya drove hundreds of thousands of them to flee their homeland to Bangladesh and other countries throughout the region.

In 2012, sectarian violence broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the country’s west and then spread to other regions in Myanmar. Reports said that around 240 people were killed, mostly Muslims, and 240,000 displaced, in what human rights groups have described as ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Constantine’s exhibition had made stops in London, Canberra, Washington, DC and in the European Parliament in Brussels before coming to Jakarta. It is set to be exhibited in Tokyo and Bangkok in the next few months.

“The exhibition in Jakarta is an important one, because Jakarta is the seat of the ASEAN Secretary and Myanmar has assumed the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN this year,” Constantine said.

The Jakarta exhibition is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Indonesia and the Indonesia Civil Society Network for Refugee Right Protection (SUAKA).

Separately, Febi Yonesta from SUAKA said there were around 700 Rohingya refugees and 700 Rohingya asylum seekers in Indonesia.

“They are, sadly, living in conditions in this country that are no better than in their homeland. Indonesian law has so far considered them as illegal immigrants,” Febi said.

“There has been no resettlement and repatriation of Rohingya in Indonesia. They are living uncertain lives and have no access to basic human rights.”

Indonesia, unlike Australia and most other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, has not ratified the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, which stipulates that refugees from political or other forms of persecution should not be penalized for illegal entry or overstay.

“The Indonesian government has drafted a presidential decree on refugee status and asylum in the past three years, but it is apparently not going anywhere,” Febi said.

“The government is urged to speed up the process to at least provide a legal framework for the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in the country.”