USC Shoah Foundation Records Interviews of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 5:00pm

USC Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith and Director of Global Initiatives Karen Jungblut traveled to Bangladesh over the week of Thanksgiving to record interviews with Rohingya refugees who fled genocidal violence in Myanmar.

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group of about 1.1 million people who have lived for centuries in Myanmar, a mainly Buddhist country. They have been denied citizenship in their own country since 1982 and live in poverty.

In August, the Myanmar military, local police and Buddhist community members began violently driving Rohingya from their homes – destroying and looting villages, killing men, women and children, and raping women. The reason given for the violence was retaliation for a series of attacks the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) carried out on police outposts.

Smith and Jungblut, along with a team that included award winning documentarian Michele Mitchell and a translator, interviewed about a dozen Rohingya refugees at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh, where many Rohingya have been living since being forced out of Myanmar. The interviewees hail from villages across the Myanmar state of Rakhine, where most Rohingya live.

The refugees they interviewed said there had been a buildup of religious persecution, in particular against Muslim teachers, for several months before ARSA even carried out their attacks. The military then directly ordered Rohingya people to leave the country, after they murdered their relatives and destroyed their homes and businesses. One interviewee described watching his sons being shot in the back as they ran. 

Smith broke the news to several of the interviewees on-camera that a repatriation memorandum had been signed, conceivably allowing them to return to Myanmar. But the interviewees said they would not go back unless the Rohingya are able to represent themselves in negotiations and are guaranteed safety and citizenship in their own country.

USC Shoah Foundation will continue developing its methodology and process for interviewing Rohingya survivors and work toward integrating the interviews into the Visual History Archive.