It was a tide of humanity that just kept getting larger.
Driven from their homes by mass violence after a clash between insurgents and police, Rohingya Muslims from a borderland state in Buddhist-majority Myanmar streamed into neighboring Bangladesh where they faced homelessness, more potential violence and deeply uncertain futures.
Day after excruciating day, an AP team of journalists on both sides of the border painted a portrait of human misery and the hope that always lurks within it – and cast doubt on claims by Myanmar’s government that Rohingya villagers set fire to their own homes.
For their work to focus the world’s attention on the Rohingya’s exodus, Delhi staffers – photographer Bernat Armangue, correspondent Muneeza Naqvi and video journalist Al-emrun Garjon – and Myanmar correspondent Esther Htusan win this week’s Beat of the Week award.
Armangue, South Asia’s news director, arrived two days before the rest of the Delhi-based team and scouted out the muddy terrain along the Naf, a monsoon-swollen river the Rohingya crossed in rickety wooden boats to get from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
“The scale of pain and tragedy was just so stunning,” Naqvi said.
Describing the team navigating the Naf’s dangerous riverbanks amid a sea of humanity, Naqvi said, “As we slipped and slid through the river clay trying desperately not to fall into the river, it was the waves of Rohingya, people who had lost everything, who helped us.”
In the end, the team gave voice – and image – to the displaced.
Naqvi’s writing brought readers the story of a couple who fled their home, built a shelter with their family on a muddy hill – and made the fateful decision to return home to prepare for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. A family member said they were killed, and the only survivor was the couple’s 2-year-old son.
And then Naqvi took readers to the Kutupalong refugee camp, where the latest waves of fleeing Rohingya are joining ones who fled during earlier convulsions of violence in Myanmar. Her story concluded with this heartbreaking detail:
“On Friday afternoon, two infants were interred in the cemetery that has grown on the edge of the camp. A 6-day-old baby, born on the road as his family escaped, was buried next to a 2-day-old child born to a long-time resident.”
Armangue captured the despair and desperation of the dangerous journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh, including devastating images of a family transporting a woman to medical care after a land mine blew off one of her legs while crossing the border.
He also produced a photo essay on the items the Rohingya took with them, including family photos, documents to prove land ownership in Myanmar and bags of spices to remind them of home.
On the Myanmar side, the government has blocked international journalists from going to northern Rakhine state on their own, but have organized two tours. Htusan went on one, and found strong reason to doubt claims by the government that Rohingya were burning their own homes.
The all-formats coverage broke through the wall-to-wall news of the hurricanes in the U.S., with photos and video capturing scenes that were largely unmatched elsewhere. Over the course of the week, their work generated more than 4,000 source matches on Newswhip, drew more than 100,000 social media interactions and was routinely ranked among the most-used stories on Teletrax.
For venturing into remote borderlands between Bangladesh and Myanmar to bring the world the stories of the Rohingya, the team wins this week’s $500 Beat of the Week prize.