Exhibition brings images, voices of Rohingya refugee crisis to Winnipeg

A new exhibition at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights brings together the voices of Rohingya Canadians and Winnipeg-born photojournalist Kevin Frayer's images of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution and genocide in Myanmar.

Time to Act: Rohingya Voices includes work of Winnipeg-born photojournalist Kevin Frayer

This image, courtesy of Kevin Frayer and Getty Images, is one of many photographs by the Winnipeg-born photographer on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Every detail in Kevin Frayer's photos pulls the viewer in and asks them to empathize with the plight of its subjects — the persecuted Rohingya of Myanmar.

A new exhibition at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights brings together the Winnipeg-born photojournalist's images of Rohingya refugees and the voices of 12 Rohingya Canadians who contributed interviews, photos, video and artifacts.

"I just want people to see us [as] more than just numbers," said Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya Canadian who lives in Surrey, B.C., whose voice can be heard in the exhibition.

Ullah, 27, hopes the exhibition will help Canadians understand the Rohingya a little bit better.

"We're really just human beings that are trying so hard to really live, although all the odds are against us," she said in an interview with Marcy Markusa, host of CBC Manitoba's Information Radio.

A desperate Rohingya refugee boy cries as he climbs on a truck during aid distribution near the Balukali refugee camp on Sept. 20, 2017, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The exhibition Time to Act: Rohingya Voices opens Sunday and runs until April 5, 2020. It was put together in collaboration with Frayer and Rohingya and Burmese Canadians. The photos come from a larger body of Frayer's work called Desperate Journey: Rohingya Exodus from 2017.

For decades, Rohingya, a largely Muslim ethnic group, have suffered persecution in Myanmar, where the majority of people are Buddhist.

Violence against the Rohingya erupted after a militant Rohingya group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation, or ARSA, attacked a security post on Aug. 25, 2017, killing 12 security force members. ARSA is also accused of a massacre of Hindus in the ensuing violence.

However, a growing body of evidence collected by various rights groups suggests the security forces may have been planning a campaign of violence against the Rohingya long before the security post killings, and a UN fact-finding mission concluded the campaign of murder, sexual assault and dislocation had genocidal intent.

Ullah's family fled the violence in 1995, when she was three.

"There was a lot of reasons why my parents actually said that there is no hope for us anymore. Genocide has been brewing. People were not allowed to go to school, to do their jobs," Ullah said.

"It was getting worse and worse, and that was quite bad already. But now it's, I don't know, multitude of times worse."

Entire villages were burned and more than 700,000 fled to refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. Women in the camps live under the constant threat of rape, Ullah said.

Dil Mohammed, centre, speaks to foreign journalists from the the no man's land between Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2018. He says it's not safe for Rohingya Muslims to return to Myanmar. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

Ullah's family lived in Thailand as stateless refugees until 2011, when they came to Canada.

Ullah wants the Canadian government to prosecute the state of Myanmar for crimes against the Rohingya and other minorities.

"I think everybody in the world really needs to think about why we're here in this world at this time together, if it's not for us to actually hold hands and really try to make this place a better place for the future," she said.

With files from Aviva Jacob and Cameron MacLean


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