I witnessed three funerals in four days in a small area of the camps in the Rakhine state for the Rohingya, Myanmar’s Muslim minority, in November 2015. Each of those deaths would have been easily preventable with access to basic health care. I followed another woman, Moriam Katu, for five days, and watched her suffocate slowly from asthma, gasping for breath, begging for help from the doctor that hadn’t shown up that day as she sat propped up against the wall in the one accessible emergency clinic, then coughing up blood surrounded by her daughters back at home. She died a few weeks after I left.
An estimated one million stateless Rohingya have been stripped of their citizenship in Myanmar and forced to live in modern-day concentration camps, surrounded by government military checkpoints. They are not able to leave, to work outside the camps, do not have access to basic medical care or food. Most aid groups are banned from entering or working in the camps, leaving the Rohingya to their own devices for sustenance and healthcare. Journalists are also routinely denied access, Myanmar’s way of ensuring the world doesn’t see the slow, intentional demise of a population.
Many Rohingya from Myanmar have managed to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 people live in dismal, over-crowded makeshift camps and rudimentary settlements along Bangladesh’s southern tip near the Myanmar border. They live in a constant state of fear they will be imprisoned or deported.
After six days photographing the settlements and camps in and around Cox’s bazaar, my translator received a call from Bangladesh’s military intelligence. His message was clear: they had been patient with me for several days, but their patience had run out. No more photographs of the Rohingya.
I have spent the better part of the last sixteen years photographing human suffering, human rights abuses and, all too often, displaced civilians and refugees fleeing from war or persecution. But I have seldom seen the systematic oppression and abuse of an entire population go almost entirely unaided and undocumented. The camps and settlements in Myanmar and Bangladesh are conspicuously bereft of the international aid community and, consequently, a countless number of Rohingya are dying undocumented. This is the invisible genocide.
Lynsey Addario, a frequent TIME contributor, is a photographer represented by Verbatim. These images are from Refugee: a Photo Exhibition by the Annenberg Space for Photography, currently on display at Newseum in Washington.
Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s International Photo Editor.
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