In Paula Bronsteinâs photographs of the Rohingya exodus through Myanmar, there are no shoes. Guys, women and children trudge wearily across the embankments of rice paddies, sort muddy rivers or pick their own way across flimsy bridges associated with lashed-together bamboo poles, all within their bare feet, and carrying next to nothing but the occasional bundle of clothing, and their infants.
Slideshow: Â Escaping ethnic cleansing, the Rohingya of Myanmar flee to Bangladesh > > >
Bronstein, that has covered wars and refugees through Afghanistan to Sudan to Lesbos, Greece, has been photographing the Rohingya, an essentially stateless Muslim group among the Buddhist majority in Myanmar, off and on for years. She was attracted back there after a clash with all the Myanmar police in August handled off a swift and intense campaign of ethnic cleansing that will in less than two months has driven greater than a half-million people from their homes plus villages to refugee camps within neighboring Bangladesh.
Bronstein spent per month on the assignment, roughly from the center of September to mid-October, towards the end of the monsoon season. It had been, she says, one of the most physically difficult environments she has ever worked inârainy and muddy and hot plus humid, even for Southeast Asian countries. From the border, she saw smoke cigarettes rising from villages torched within the Myanmar side.
One refugee, seriously bandaged from her wounds, informed Bronstein the attackers had secured her family in their house before establishing it afire; she and the girl 8-year-old daughter had crawled in order to safety, but six other associates of her family, including 4 children, perished in the fire. Bronstein photographed the funerals of 5 children and witnessed the capsizing of two small watercraft traversing the Naf River.
âUnfortunately, the children always end up drowning because theyâre so small,â she said. âRohingya families are quite large â six to eight children is not unusual. I saw way too many images Iâd rather not remember of gorgeous little children that drowned.â
For the fleeing refugees, the journey to the border from their villages often takes anywhere from three to 10 times. The end of their journey is enormous sprawling camps in the Coxâs Bazar district of Bangladesh, where they may be fed and cared for by asylum agencies â? but they have no obvious idea of where they will end up. Bangladesh authorities have warned of an âenvironmental catastropheâ in the region, as the desperate refugees have got denuded hillsides for wood to develop shelters and burn for cooking food. The area is also the site of animals refuges, and at least six Rohingyan refugees, having survived the slaughter and trek from Myanmar, are already killed by wild elephants within the camps.
Although she was properly aware of the oppression of the Rohingya, Bronstein says, âI never thought it would happen. Nobody ever thought this would happen. This level of brutality is just unthinkable.Â The word that people are using is âgenocide.ââ
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