This crisis will give me goose bumps for the rest of my life

Associated Press’s Srinagar based award winning photographer Dar Yasin has been to Afghanistan and many other places but is overwhelmed by the Myanmar crisis which he is covering from Bangladesh border since September 13. His pictures are devoid of hope and relief and offer an “overwhelming sense of bleakness”. He is the same newsman who left his camera aside and took a school girl in his lap and moved her out of harm after she was injured in old Srinagar city early this year. The photographer who was featured by Time magazine, twice in three months, for his work, talked to Kashmir Life from Cox’s Bazar. Excerpts from the long interview

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): How are you covering the Rohangya crisis in Bangladesh?

 DAR YASIN (DY): I am stationed in Cox’s Bazaar, one of the border districts of Bangladesh. It is basically a tourist place where normally finding shelter is very difficult because lot many people come here to spend time on beaches. It has a fascinating marine drive. While I am stationed here but I daily go to the border areas to cover and meet the refugees. There are almost six spots wherefrom the refugees are coming into Bangladesh. There are two major camps at Kutupalong and Balukhali, not far away from border and one of them is an older one. These camps are too huge. You can see the other end of it. We are told that more than four lakh people have already come to these camps. There are people everywhere, on roads, on streets, almost everywhere. The place is inundated by the people. The government here had to make a serious effort to get the people out from the roads so that movement is easier.

Very recently certain areas of the camp were inundated by the floods which created its own crisis. They had pitched tents and they had to vacate later. Dhaka is trying its level best to manage the crisis. There were reports that the government wants to shift the refugees to an island but it has not been done yet.

KL: What are the stories that these refugees tell?

 DY: Once they reach, it is very difficult for them to tell their stories. Their immediate priority is to manage their thirst and hunger. They are exhausted. They come hungry after walking for many days. But some of them, who could talk, through a translator, said they are being threatened by the monks and the soldiers. They talk about destruction and killings. They say they are scared and are fleeing to somehow survive. Most of the refugees are women, old men and children.

KL: But do they talk about the border guards who permit them to leave Myanmar?

 DY: They do not tell anything but what I feel the border guards are pushing them out and facilitating their exit. Seemingly, they want them out of their homes.

 KL: Do the people help them?

 DY: It is a huge crisis and almost everybody is here: the UN and all its appendages, the ICRC and UNHCR. Many Muslim countries have their teams here. I saw teams from Iran, Bahrain, Iraq and many other countries. Entire world is here and entire international media is operating from Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh government is making all efforts to make refugees life better. But the numbers are huge. There is serious crisis of food, shelter and sanitation. There are private aid workers in thousands. I have seen volunteers from Punjab working here. You can see, the aide workers are coming in the same fashion as we witnessed them coming to Uri during 2005 earthquake. They come with relief in trucks, hand it over to the refugees and leave. I saw people distributing money like anything. But given the numbers, this all is too little.

KL: What has been your most indelible incident while covering the crisis there?

 DY: It was at Shah Porir Dwip beach where I felt some sort of a commotion going on. Once I got closer, I found that a boat carrying 45 refugees, all members of an extended family, had capsized while it had reached closer to the shore. There were many women who were unconscious. I saw a weak woman who was wailing because some of her family members had drowned. I saw another woman consoling the wailing lady. While she was doing so, suddenly she started crying herself because her husband got her son in his lap who had also died. That lady whom her family identified as Hanida Begum had 40-days old twins. She was carrying both, one died, his name was Abdul Masood but the other one was breathing. What was indelible for me was that the wailing woman was still thankful to God that her other child was still with her, breathing. The tragic aspect was that within minutes the family was moving, away from the spot, first seeking permission from local authorities to bury the dead and then start their search of food and shelter. They had no time to mourn at all. That sight will give me goose bumps for the rest of my life.

 KL: Your images speak million words. But what were the other unforgettable clicks?

 DY: There were many such clicks. While I was returning from a camp, I saw a group of refugees who had tied a middle aged man in ropes and were beating him ruthlessly. I do not know who the person was but the refugees had accused him of being a child-lifter, a human trafficker. I later came to know that the refugees had already lynched one to death. Refugees are completely insecurity. There is scare, anger and despair.

I will remember Abdul Kareem for a very long time. He got his frail and aged mother Alima Khatoon in his lap from Myanmar. After I saw him in the long line of refugees moving towards the refugee camp, I took a picture and then I sat with him. He said he fled his village with his mother in his lap during the dead of the night, got her into a boat. After we finished the conversation, he picked his mother in his lap and left. While seeing him parting ways, I do not know why, I started remembering my endless arguments with the school of my daughter in Srinagar, asking them to lessen her school-bag burden. What I am witnessing has changed me, the way I have been looking at life, so far.

 KL: There has been international condemnation of what Myanmar is doing. Has there been some impact?

 DY: I do not know. But what I can see the influx of refugees into Bangladesh has slowed down in last few days.


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