As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya trekked to Bangladesh from Myanmar as refugees in late 2017, one man saw a need, rented a microphone and tried to make a difference.
Many children were separated from their parents as they fled persecution, and Kamal Hussein’s made it his mission to reunite families.
"It’s like a double persecution,” he said, referring to parents who had lost children.
Hussein’s story in Kutupalong, the world’s largest refugee settlement, is now a short film by Grain Media, a film production company that won an Oscar in 2017.
‘Lost and Found’ was shot that year and has since been bought by National Geographic Documentary Films. It premiered at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival in the United States and is being released globally this year. The film was commissioned by the Nobel Prize Committee. It wanted to make a film about the work of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, which has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize.
As the crisis unfolded in late August 2017, tens of thousands of refugees were arriving in the Kutupalong area each day – on foot, exhausted and under driving monsoon rains.
Hussein decided to step up and help after a woman approached him crying and asking for help finding her child.
“I thought for a while and then rented a microphone for the whole day,” he said, relaying a description of the child. His amateur broadcasts worked. A couple of hours later, a man brought the child forward and his mission was born.
UNHCR and Handicap International subsequently gave him audio equipment and a booth in the heart of the camp to broadcast the names of separated children and urge parents to collect them.
"As a child, I had nobody."
He worked until almost midnight that first night and won the community’s trust.
“The refugees who have been here a long time know the camp but the new refugees don’t know it and they get lost here,” he said.
Myanmar’s campaign of persecution and violence from August 2017 drove more than 740,000 stateless Rohingya from their homes in Rakhine state across the border. Now, more than one million Rohingya are in Bangladesh.
A refugee himself, Hussein knew their pain. Soldiers in Myanmar beat him unconscious when he was a boy of six or seven, and for a year he was separated from his parents. He fled his homeland decades ago, but still bears the physical and mental scars.
“As a child, I had nobody,” he said. “I had a lot of pain in my life but now I’m doing this work, I feel at peace with myself.”
Director Orlando von Einsiedel hopes the film will highlight the gravity of global displacement and the need for solutions.
"The effect of the constant news cycle can make one feel numb to situations of turmoil around the world,” von Einsiedel said. “Stories of hope and ingenuity like Kamal’s are an antidote, punching through the noise and helping renewing my faith in humanity."
UNHCR is mid-way through a decade-long campaign to end stateless under the banner #IBelong.
Hussein helped reunite almost 800 children with their parents by late 2017 when the documentary was filmed.
The booth has now closed as aid agencies have stepped in to fill the role Hussein was playing and he now volunteers to continue supporting his community.
But in 2017 when chaos was at its highest and the need was at its greatest Hussein, acting alone, took the initiative.