Documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis: Roger Arnold
Photographer Roger Arnold’s stunning coverage of the Rohingya crisis headlined across the global news in 2017, in particular unique aerial footage showing thousands of people trying to make it to safety. Arnold has travelled around the world photographing and filming remarkable stories about the lives of refugees for UNHCR. In this video, he speaks about the first-hand experience of covering the Rohingya crisis.
The Cox’s Bazar settlement is home to more than 630,000 Rohingya refugees who fled the violence in Myanmar directed against them in 2017. An estimated 190,000 live in settlements in the vicinity, along with 330,000 of the most affected host communities.
Many people fled torching and killings. Others left in fear of anticipated violence. To reach Bangladesh, they walked for days, many carrying children, wading through marshland before swimming across the Naf river that divides the two countries. UNHCR worked swiftly to accommodate as many as possible in camps and settlements in Kutupalong and Balukhali, and provided emergency relief items.
Photographer Roger Arnold was on the ground, documenting the Rohingya crisis for UNHCR. He talks about his experience in Bangladesh.
“The staggering scale of the Rohingya crisis is difficult to capture. With aerial photography, I’ve been able to show the immense scale of the Kutupalong refugee camp.
The area is now severely overcrowded and growing more so everyday. It is a maze of tents and makeshift shelters where you can easily get lost.
On several days I’ve witnessed scenes when thousands of refugees fled across the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh. From above you can see masses of people lined up along narrow muddy paths in the rice fields.
However, the aerial view doesn’t fully convey the desperation. After photographing from above, I’ve tried to get down at eye level so the world outside can appreciate the situation. I’ve photographed women calmly swimming with their children. And others barely making it to safety. Some are suffering with injuries, pregnancies and infections. Countless numbers of these people have told me over and over about trekking in the forest for 10, 15, 20 days to reach safety at the border.
I’ve also witnessed this same drama at night. In the darkness, up to 30 boats will appear suddenly like ghosts on the shores of Bangladesh. Desperate refugees with only a few possessions will jump into the water seeking safety. You can see the look in their eyes. Many are totally traumatised.
People have asked me what has impacted me the most. Many Rohingya don’t know how to swim which has led to countless drownings. Seeing dead children impacts everyone, no matter how many wars they have witnessed, and this, for sure, stands out in my memories.”
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.