Conditions for Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are dire. Refugee camps are dangerously overcrowded, livelihood opportunities are limited and a lack of funding has led to cuts in food rations. As global attention and humanitarian support shift to other crises, Rohingya refugee storytellers remain dedicated to reminding the world of their people's plight.
Stories linger behind every doorway and in every marketplace at Kutapalong refugee camp. Through photography and poetry, four refugees shine a light on the experience of people forced to flee, amplifying their voices beyond the camps and to the rest of the world.
“We don’t want to be a forgotten community. I want people around the world to see the Rohingya people as human beings, like everyone else,” said Zia. “I want to capture the hope, challenges and sadness, so people can learn about the Rohingya people from the Rohingya people.”
Zia is one of the four documentary photographers who have won the 2023 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for Asia and the Pacific. Established in 1954, the award honours individuals, groups and organisations who go above and beyond to protect refugees and internally displaced and stateless people.
For Zia and his fellow winners, Salim, Shahida and Abdullah, storytelling is a calling. They felt that no one would tell stories of the Rohingya refugee community for them.
“If we do not speak out, raise our voices and stand for our rights, then nothing will happen,” said Abdullah.
The four winners also conduct workshops to empower fellow Rohingya refugees through film, photography and poetry.
Abdullahi Mire is the global winner of the 2023 Nansen Refugee Award. The journalist and former refugee from Somalia has championed the right to education while putting 100,000 books in the hands of displaced children and youth in Kenya. Abdullahi and his family fled to Kenya to escape the war in Somalia. Eventually, he completed a degree in journalism and public relations at Kenyatta University in Dadaab and used this to feature refugee stories in international media.
Abdullahi is also the founder of Refugee Youth Education Hub (RYEH), a refugee-led organisation which provides safe spaces for refugees to study. The organisation has opened three libraries and distributed educational books to schools across Dadaab refugee camp, expanding learning opportunities for displaced children and youth.
“This win is not for me alone. It is for all the volunteers I work with and for the children in the schools.”