The Wretched and the Earth

The environmental crisis unfolding in the world’s largest refugee camp

31 December 2018
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IN AUGUST 2017, the Myanmar army began a new wave of targeted attacks, killing Rohingya and razing their villages. Zeid Raad Al Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, called it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Nearly a million Rohingya began streaming across the border to the district of Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh. In doing so, they became part of one more cycle of political persecution followed by mass migration over the past four decades, despite years of hostility from the Bangladesh government and border security forces.

According to Gabriele Cecconi, an Italian photographer who has documented living conditions at the sprawling refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, this influx of migrants precipitated an environmental crisis. During his first two trips to Bangladesh, in March and August 2018, Cecconi explored seven camps, including the Kutupalong–Balukhali expansion site, the largest refugee camp in the world.

His work documents an aspect of mass migration that is often obscured by the disproportionate focus on the risky and arduous process of moving across national boundaries: the lives that refugees must lead once they have reached their intended destination. It looks at the impact of the refugee crisis on an already beleaguered ecosystem, and the effects the degradation has on the refugees themselves.

Gabriele Cecconi is a documentary photographer interested in social, political and environmental issues. He has had solo and collective exhibitions and his work has been published in magazines including L’Espresso, Internazionale and D La Repubblica.

Keywords: World Health Organisation refugees Rohingya Bangladesh Cox's Bazar Kutupalong Balukhali Myanmar United Nations Inter Sector Coordination Group Teknaf Ukhia Deforestation wildlife