SHAFAQNA -Â An award-winning photographerÂ who has an exhibition onÂ Rohingya Muslims currently running in Istanbul says Turkey has a particularÂ relevance to his work.
â€œIstanbul is very strategic because Turkey is one of the few countries in the region that has actually shown a considerable amount of concern for what is happening to the Rohingya community,â€Â Greg Constantine told Anadolu Agency this week.
â€œInside Burma [Myanmar],Â the conditions the Rohingya liveÂ in are quite like apartheid…Â They are confined to one geographic area; they canâ€™t come, they canâ€™t goâ€¦ They receive very little medical assistance or education for their children,â€ he adds.
Exiled to Nowhere: Burmaâ€™s RohingyaÂ is a collection of photographs fromÂ Constantineâ€™s 12 visits to Myanmar.
It focuses on persecution and human rights violation against the Rohingya community, and was previouslyÂ heldÂ in Washington, Bangkok, and Geneva.
Constantine says he made his first visit to Rohingya communities in Myanmar’sÂ volatile Rakhine stateÂ in 2006,Â and hasÂ made eight subsequent trips.
Rakhine is the home to most of Rohingya community. SinceÂ June 2012,Â the predominantly BuddhistÂ countryÂ has beenÂ grappling with sectarian violence, outbreaks of which have leftÂ hundreds dead and more than 140,000 Rohingya confined to internal displacement camps in Rakhine.
In recent years, around 130,000 Rohingya have also fled the country by sea, according to the United Nations.
â€œI was so shocked by the situation that the Rohingya were living in there,” saysÂ Constantine, accusing the international community of paying littleÂ attention to the community.
â€œI knew it was a story I want to dedicate a lot of time to.â€
Constantine’s haunting images show families confined to bamboo shacks, malnourished potbellied children walking among slums, and Rohingya gathered in impoverished conditions, trying to eke out an existence from the land.
One image shows three covered Rohingya women staring out of the darkness. It’s as if the suffering those eyes have seen reachesÂ out to you.
As a freelance photographer,Â Constantine – who says he covered most of his costsÂ through grantsÂ -Â had the freedom to spend long periods of time with the Rohingya.
â€œI like to talk to people quite a lot. And I always ask people if they are compatible with me taking pictures [so as not to invade their privacy],â€ he says.
He says getting people toÂ talk with the aid of a translator, however, was not hard.
â€œThe Rohingya community has been so oppressed for so long they want their stories to be told,” he says.
Constantine says that hisÂ visits took mainly 2 toÂ 3 weeks, althoughÂ his last trip – in Nov.Â 2014 -Â took justÂ three days.
â€œThere was a big demonstration by the local Rakhine Buddhist community,â€ he recalls. â€œThere were several thousands ofÂ people demonstrating through the streets of Sittwe [the capital of Rakhine State], all protesting the existing of theÂ Rohingya.â€
My trips chronicleÂ â€œthe starting point of that hatred,â€ he adds
No matter how starkÂ and thought provokingÂ the images – some, it has to be said, hauntingly beautiful in their capture of suffering -Â Constantine says he is not in Turkey to sell his images.
â€œThe purpose of this exhibition is not to celebrate the photography, it is the last objective of all of this. It is actually to use photography as a way to engage people and promote better understanding [about the Rohingya.]
â€œI focus on the root cause of the problem and that is the oppression that they face in their homeland – which is Burma,â€ Constantine says.
â€œUnless things change there, you are continually going to have this flow of Rohingya out of Burma to other countries.â€
Exiled to Nowhere: Burmaâ€™s Rohingya,Â runs until July 30 at Galata Fotografhanesi in Istanbulâ€™s Beyoglu district.