From Kutupalong: Reflections on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis
Fovrth Director of Photography Alan Bucaria recounts the VR documentary shoot of “I Am Rohingya”
By LINDSEY BLIEFERNICHT
A steady wave of violence, arson, rape, and murder have sparked a massive refugee influx of the Rohingya population from Myanmar’s Rakhine State to neighboring Bangladesh. In 2017, Fovrth’s Director of Photography Alan Bucaria traveled to Bangladesh to capture the struggles of the Rohingya refugees in ContrastVR’s debut documentary, I Am Rohingya. The film follows Jamalida Begum, a Rohingya woman who fled with her family from their home in Myanmar to the Kutupalong Refugee Camp of Bangladesh, following the destruction of her village.
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya people are ethnic Muslims living in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. They are ethnically, religiously and linguistically different from the Buddhist majority of Myanmar. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the Rohingya have been in the area since the 15th century. Due to a history of migration between India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar during British rule of the country, the government of Myanmar insists that the Rohingya are Bengalis who have concocted a separate ethnicity for political reasons. Since 1982, the Rohingya people have been effectively stateless, due to the country’s refusal to recognize the Rohingya as one of the 135 official ethnic groups of Myanmar. In practice, their people have been systematically denied citizenship. The Rohingya constitute 10% of all the stateless people in the world and represent the single largest stateless minority population on earth.
The current mass exodus builds on decades of displacement: nearly one million Rohingya have fled since the 1970s and over 160,000 Rohingya have fled in the last 5 years alone, due to state violence and institutionalized discrimination against their people.
After the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Rohingya armed opposition group, claimed responsibility for an attack against army and police posts in August 2017, the government declared ARSA a terrorist organization and launched a violent campaign in the Rakhine State. Over 500,000 Rohingya, approximately half of the ethnic group’s population, have fled Myanmar, 80% of whom are women and children.
While some have escaped the country by sea to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, many have taken refuge in nearby Bangladesh. Fovrth’s Alan Bucaria captured Jamalida’s story as a refugee in Bangladesh in I Am Rohingya, a new VR documentary by Contrast VR and AJ+.
When Alan Bucaria first arrived to Kutupalong, the camp had only recently been created. International aid had yet to fully mobilize, trees were recently cleared for the makeshift encampments, and most refugees were attempting to establish shelter in this new country. Yet, Bucaria observed a sense of community in this time of need:
“All of the refugees had extremely intense and troubling stories about what they went through to get there,” Bucaria described, adding that despite limited resources, many shared what little they had with whoever was in need. “Everybody was helping each other out.”
Bucaria has worked in refugee camps around the world; yet, the newness of Kutupalong contrasted with the well-established camps and humanitarian mobilizations he has witnessed in other crises.
In approaching this particular story, adopting a first-person account in virtual reality was clear to Bucaria from the beginning. His goal was to create a personalized connection with one person who represents the experiences of many.
“Stories are what make people pay attention or empathize. You don’t want to just say ‘all these people are struggling.’ This is one person, this is their story. People identify with that more.”
The narrative of the documentary follows Jamalida and her sons as they go about their daily life in the camp. Animations are interwoven with images of the family navigating Kutupalong, adding context to the story that would be visually inaccessible otherwise, as the multimedia team lacked the option to back to Myanmar to shoot additional footage.
Reflecting on a particularly vibrant scene where Jamalida demonstrates her passion for dancing, Bucaria recalls that there was always music present in the camp. Music is a community event in Kutupalong: there were few other forms of entertainment, and some made sure to bring stereos with them. Bucaria adds, “They lost everything, so I think [music] was one of the few things they had.”
While the production of I Am Rohingya was underway, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar escalated and finally received more traction among Western media outlets. Bucaria hopes that his film will contribute to global action on the Rohingya refugee crisis and ultimately “inspire people to help the Rohingya out.”
Lindsey Bliefernicht is a multimedia fellow at Fovrth Studios.
#360video #VR #virtualreality #360 #fovrthstudios #goFovrth #VRjournalism #Rohingya #Muslim #Refugee #Bangladesh #Myanmar #Crisis #ContrastVR #AlJazeera #AJ+