Through the Lens of Hope: The Remarkable but unrecognized Journey of Rohingya Refugee Photographer Jamal Arakani
In a powerful personal narrative, Tazeen Hasan captures the extraordinary journey of Jamal Arakani, a Rohingya refugee photographer, as he defies the odds and pursues his passion amidst adversity. From the confines of a refugee camp, Jamal's unwavering determination and unwritten dreams take center stage.
My name is Jamal, and I am a Rohingya refugee photographer. I was born and raised in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh. From the moment I came into this world, I have never known anything other than life as a refugee. My motherland, Arakan, remains a distant dream, controlled by Myanmar while I am confined to the boundaries of the camp.
The world often sees us refugees as a mass of people trapped in desperate conditions, living in abject poverty. Seldom do they recognize the dreams and creativity that reside within us. But even in the midst of such challenging circumstances, I refused to let go of my aspirations. From a young age, I nurtured a burning desire to become a journalist, to tell the stories of my people and shed light on the injustices we face.
Unfortunately, as a refugee, pursuing my dreams seemed like an impossible task. I didn't have access to high-end cameras or sophisticated equipment. I didn't even possess the basic documentation or identity papers that would allow me to move freely. But that didn't stop me from dreaming or striving for my goals.
With determination and resourcefulness, I began taking photographs with my friend's mobile phone. I would capture the daily life in the camp, the struggles and the moments of resilience. I started sharing these pictures on social media, hoping to give voice to the plight of my people. One day, out of the blue, I received a message on Twitter from someone who wanted to use my pictures. I agreed, and although I was not credited for my images, they generously gifted me some money. With that small amount, I purchased a second-hand smartphone from a neighbor and began taking photographs daily, using my own equipment.
In 2017, when the October crisis erupted in Rakhine state, an overwhelming number of Rohingya people fled from Myanmar to seek refuge in Bangladesh. I was there, with my camera in hand, documenting the heart-wrenching scenes before me. I captured the pain, the fear, and the resilience of my people as they navigated through the chaos. I sent my photographs and video footage to various international media outlets, hoping that the world would bear witness to our struggle.
Over time, my work started to gain recognition. Images I had captured made their way to prestigious publications such as The Guardian, Reuters, Paris Match, Al Jazeera, BBC News Bangla, Tempo English, CNN Voice of America, Head On Photo Festival, Peoples Dispatch, and more. It was a bittersweet feeling because, as a refugee, I lacked the necessary identity papers to claim credit for my work. I had no bank account to receive payment or formal recognition. But despite this, I found solace and joy in knowing that my creative work had made it to the eyes of the world through these renowned channels.
Being a refugee comes with its share of limitations and struggles, but it does not define us solely by our circumstances. It does not strip us of our dreams or our creative spirit. I am Jamal, a Rohingya refugee photographer, and I am determined to continue capturing the stories of my people, even if I remain nameless and unrecognized. Through my lens, I hope to bring attention to the resilience, strength, and humanity that exists within the refugee community.
This is a story of personal resilience and determination of a born refugee