A man forced to bury his son after watching Myanmar’s military kill him, a woman who was gang-raped by soldiers, and another woman who had her family murdered and home burnt down – these are only three of the Rohingya refugees who share their harrowing stories in a hard-hitting new virtual reality documentary released on Tuesday.
Forced to Flee – launched jointly by Contrast VR, Al Jazeera’s virtual reality team, and Amnesty International – was shot in late October in Kutupalong camp, Bangladesh, which is now home to more than 620,000 Rohingya refugees who fled what the UN called ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Myanmar’s Rakhine State since late August.
In the immersive film, Rohingya women and men recount the horrors of fleeing systematic and widespread violations and urge the world to secure their basic rights.
“One of the most powerful things about telling this story in 360° video is getting a glimpse at the scale of the crisis,” said Zahra Rasool, Contrast VR’s editorial lead.
“You hear three people’s stories, but then you can turn around and see hundreds, if not, thousands [of] more people throughout the film and you can imagine that they each have their own awful experiences, just not told to us.”
In addition to testimonies of Rohingya survivors, Forced to Flee features Amnesty International’s satellite imagery analysis of village burnings as well as original drone footage showing the immense scale of Kutupalong camp.
The film was released on the same day of the UN Security Council meeting in New York on the situation of the Rohingya, and a week after the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution condemning abuses against them and Myanmar’s other minorities.
More than 620,000 people have fled into Bangladesh in a matter of months as Myanmar’s security forces unleashed a targeted campaign of violence against the Rohingya: killing an unknown number of women, men and children; raping women and girls; laying landmines; and burning entire Rohingya villages.
Amnesty International has documented how Rohingya people who remain in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are trapped in “a dehumanising state-sponsored system of apartheid“, where virtually every aspect of their lives is severely restricted.
“The sheer scale, speed and intensity of the Myanmar security forces’ crimes against humanity targeting the Rohingya are mind-boggling. From massacres to mass rapes to entire villages being burnt to the ground, it is hard to truly grasp the horror that sparked well over half a million people to flee to Bangladesh in the space of three months,” Tirana Hassan, crisis response director at Amnesty International, said.
“We hope this film will reach people still unaware of this crisis, immersing viewers in the refugees’ stories, helping them to understand what they have endured on a much deeper level. We also hope it will drive home to world leaders the urgency of acting now to stop the violence and lay the groundwork for accountability.”
The film follows the release of Contrast VR’s ground-breaking virtual reality documentary, I am Rohingya, in September, which gave a glimpse into the life of a Rohingya Muslim, Jamalida Begum, and her two children in Kutupalong camp before the latest influx of refugees.