Point of No Return is a project that documents the lives of those enduring statelessness within the displacement camps and few remaining Rohingya villages of the Southern Rakhine State, Myanmar. The visuals cultivated for this series expose the inhumane living conditions inflicted on of the Rohingya Muslim minority by the militarized Rakhine State. In 2012, many Rohingya were forced to relocate to displacement camps after the Rakhine people burned their villages to ash. Since then, the Rohingya are no longer recognized as Burmese citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are barely surviving on scant government food rations, all but nonexistent access to healthcare, dilapidated housing shelters, and the perpetual fear of renewed attacks on their communities. The images displayed in this exhibition are intended to serve as a warning, a cry for help, and a demand that the systemic persecution of an entire ethnicity will not be ignored.
Everyone I spoke to in Southern Rakhine had a story about the 2012 violence. They could clearly recall the day their homes were taken by the Rakhine, the very same people who previously attended school with them and worked beside them peacefully for years. The day the Rakhine surrounded their communities with swords and guns distributed to them by the Government in an act of premeditated violence, some hid, many fled, and few fought. For those who tried to salvage a semblance of their of life in their original communities after the violence, survival was nearly impossible. Most now live in horrific conditions in the displacement camps with no government or NGO assistance.
In the words of Usman Ali of the Thandowlee village, the government has two options now. “They can help us, and give us back our equal rights, or they can bomb us, and finally end our suffering.” He says this as the leader of the one the last independent villages in all of Southern Rakhine. When the Rakhine people assaulted Rohingya communities in 2012, they were the only village to fight back. Armed with nothing but stones and sticks against swords and guns, Thandowlee managed to protected most of their village from fire, although it meant the loss of three lives. It is this perseverance that has helped his community survive the last five years with no rights, no government assistance, and no NGO support. A man of seventy, he says he waits for bombs to end his people’s suffering, but with gleam in his eye and white knuckled fists at his sides, ready to take up arms once again.
Photos and text by Jade Sacker