Of all the challenges that Myanmar's Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has stared down in her life, the one she faces in 2014 may be the one she fails. She seemingly willed her country to democracy, but as a freed opposition politician she has so far been unable—or,her critics say, unwilling—to help the most vulnerable members of Myanmar society, the Rohingya minority.
A year and a half ago, an outbreak of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Sittwe, Myanmar, started a struggle that drove nearly 150,000 Rohingya from their homes and into poorly run Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps. Photographer Andrew Stanbridge made multiple trips to Sittwe amidst the continuing violence to document the Rohingya's problematic situation and uncertain future in Myanmar.
In the Muslim neighborhood of Aung Mingalar, security forces and barricades block off roads, preventing Rohingya from taking part in normal Sittwe society, which leaves them with little sources of food or work. Worse are the conditions inside the dusty camps, where those lucky enough to have the official aid buildings live 10 families to each long house. Those that are still waiting for shelter from the government are left to create makeshift tent cities out of whatever they can salvage, whether it be empty food bags from aid groups or dried rice stalks. Temperatures can vary drastically, from searing daytime heat to cold nights and monsoon rains. Access to clean water and food is limited and although toilets are some of the first things built, raw sewage still moves through open waterways. There are frequent disagreements between the police—largely members of the Burmese ethnic majority—and the Rohingya IDPs. These confrontations sometimes turn violent.
There are other oppressed minorities in Myanmar—the Shan, the Kachin, the Karen—but the Rohingya are not even recognized as a legitimate ethnic group in Myanmar, nor are they given citizenship rights. They have no voice. The question for 2014 is: Will Aung San Suu Kyi lend them hers? —Pauline Eiferman
- Rohingya pick through a burned-out village for useable scraps like nails and bricks.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- Young men stroll past one of the many shops that have been closed for business since the violence began.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- Rohingya girls in the Muslim "ghetto" of Sittwe dress up for the Eid holiday.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- Rations of sweet milk are handed out in Aung Mingalar during the celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- The entrance to one of the larger Rohingya IDP camps outside of Sittwe.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- A Rohingya woman crosses a stream that separates two IDP encampments.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- Many of the camps are built from salvaged materials.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- A Rohingya woman stands in front of one of the "temporary" encampments.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- A man and his children take refuge from the searing midday sun in the tent they call home.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- A Rohingya man prays in a makeshift mosque in one of the IDP camps.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- A policeman on patrol in the IDP camps shows off his tattoo.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- Police train their weapons on one of the IDP camps that saw protesting earlier in the day.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
- A Rohingya woman fans her husband who was shot by police forces during the protestsPhoto by: Andrew Stanbridge
- Villagers and family members surround the body of a Rohingya man killed by police gunfire during the protests.Photo by: Andrew Stanbridge
[Top image: A burned Rohingya mosque in the town of Sittwe, Myanmar.]
Andrew Stanbridge is a Portland, OR based photographer who photographs, publishes and exhibits internationally. His most recent work shown here is the culmination of two trips to Sittwe, Myanmar to cover the aftermath of violence between Buddhists and Rohingyan Muslims. More of his work can be found at andrewstanbridge.com.