Thursday, October 6, 2011



A Thai documentary maker turns her attention to the Rohingya

Like many Thais, Thananuch Sanguansak saw CNN's report in early 2009 that the Thai military had been systematically towing boat-loads of Rohingya refugees far out to sea and setting them adrift. Her curiosity was aroused and the director and editor of the Nation Channel's documentary section decided to explore further with a documentary of her own.

"That was really the first time I'd heard about the Rohingya. They are part of our daily lives but we don't really notice them," says Thananuch, who set about tracing the Rohingya in Thailand from Ranong to Samut Sakhon - the provinces that are home to the largest concentrations of Burmese immigrant labour.

"I asked Burmese labourers where I could find Rohingya people and the answer was ‘any roti vendor'. I was surprised because I'd always thought that the roti vendors came from India or Bangladesh. In fact, they are Rohingya," says Thananuch.

After interviewing a Rohingya man in Ranong, she learned that he and his family had been evicted from their rented house and asked by government officials from not to give any more information. Thananuch was incensed and decided to develop her documentary and get to know more about the ethnic group.

Most of 50-minute documentary was researched, shot, edited and narrated by Thananuch on her own. Rather than focusing on the obvious human rights abuses, she presents the lives and an overview of these little known people in "My Roghingya" and lets the viewer draw their own conclusions.

"The documentary is from my point of view. I want to share their lives and tell their stories, not just what happened in news," she says.

After showing on the Nation Channel and Modernine as well as at the World Film Festival of Bangkok last year, the documentary is being screened today and on Saturday at the UNHCR's Refugee Film Festival in Tokyo.

It doesn't try to dramatise the hardships of these stateless people or the discrimination in their homeland. In fact Thananuch tries to paint an honest picture of the people who live humbly in Thailand and as well as in the Rohingya refugee camp at Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.

Unlike those in Thailand, the Rohingya in Bangladesh face a real struggle to survive. They have to stay in the refugee camp and while they can go out to work, they have to return to the camp at night. Thananuch discovered that it was not easy to interview Rohingya people in Bangladesh because they were terrified of getting into trouble with the Bangladesh people and the government.

"We interviewed them in the van so they'd feel safer," she says.

"But whether they are relatively free in Thailand or in a camp in Bangladesh, they really don't want to live abroad. They want to live in Burma," says Thananuch.

"They want Burmese citizenship and to be able to return home."

Many Rohingya people have lived in Thailand for decades, can speak Thai fluently and some have married Thais and are raising families. Aside from selling roti or grilled squid, some are waiting further endorsement of their legal refugee status through UNHCR.

The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim people from Arakan state in western Burma near the Bangladesh border. Long denied Burmese citizenship, they were chased from their homes by the junta and forced to flee to Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia, none of which wants them.

Burma is an ethnically diverse country. Not only the Rohingya, all ethnic people including the Karen or Mon have problems with the government. The Rohingya people still in Arakan State are forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission and have no legal right to own land or property.

Thananuch says she sees no way out for the Rohingya.

"When their problem started getting more public attention, they hoped that their citizenship situation would be resolved because Asean and the UN were aware of their existence. But nothing is happening: it's not easy for any international organisations to interfere with Burma's internal policies."

  • Watch "My Rohingya" at
Source:  The Nations

No comments:

Post a Comment