THE coveted Pulitzer Prize for feature photography has this year been awarded to Reuters for their documentation of the exodus of Rohingya refugees from Burma into neighbouring Bangladesh.
The United Nations estimates close to 700,000 Rohingya Muslim have made the trip since August 2017, when a brutal military crackdown began in response to rebel attacks on security forces in northern Rakhine State.
Those that have fled the fighting tell stories of mass killings, rape and arson in Muslim villages. The United Nations has called the crisis is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Burma has denied any wrongdoing and maintains it is fighting a legitimate battle against terrorists. They have refused entry to the affected areas to most humanitarian aid and UN envoys.
A recent report from the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence found sexual violence had been “integral to their [Burma’s army] strategy, humiliating, terrorising and collectively punishing the Rohingya community”, adding that it was a “calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return.”
Evidence of mass graves has also been found in Rakhine State. A February report from Associated Press suggested around 400 members of the persecuted minority were killed by Burmese troops and buried in the five previously unreported mass graves in the village of Gu Dar Pyin.
Imprisoned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo also uncovered the mass killing of 10 Rohingya men in the coastal village of Inn Din.
In a rare admission of wrongdoing, the Tatmadaw – another name for Burma’s army – said soldiers had confessed to the murders and were since sentenced to 10 years in jail with hard labour. Both journalists remain in prison awaiting trial for possession of secret official documents.
The refugee camps near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh have been inundated with new arrivals since the clashes began, giving rise to cramped living conditions and health risks.
Conditions in the camp are basic, dangerous, and unsanitary as facilities and aid agencies struggle to keep pace with the needs of the ever-expanding community.
Save the Children’s Evan Schuurman told Asian Correspondent children in the camps have a whole range of fears they are forced to live with.
“All of the children identified different fears that they have, particularly around things like wild animals like elephants and snakes,” he said, recounting the findings from Save the Children’s Childhood Interrupted report.
“A lot of children are also concerned around child protection issues, like kidnapping and human trafficking,” Schuurman added.
An agreement to repatriate the Rohingya was signed between Burma and Bangladesh in November, however, the most senior United Nations official to visit Burma this year, Ursula Mueller, said the country is not ready for the repatriation, citing “no access to health services, concerns about protection, continued displacements.”
In response to his team winning one of the most prestigious awards in American journalism, Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said: “The extraordinary photography of the mass exodus of the Rohingya people to Bangladesh demonstrates not only the human cost of conflict but also the essential role photojournalism can play in revealing it.”