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  • Writer's pictureAhtaram Shin

Decades of displacement: The harrowing life story of Rohingya refugee Muhammad Jalil

Updated: Apr 29

2022 © Hujjat Ullah

Muhammad Jalil was 102 years old when this photo was taken. Born in 1920 in Thaming Chaong, Rathedaung, he was one of the oldest Rohingya living in the refugee camp in Cox's Bazar. He had been an eye-witness to many historical events in Arakan like the Japanese-British war before Burmese independence. He married three times, but sadly his third wife Bibi Ayesha passed away at the age of 64 years just a few months before him. Jalil himself sadly passed away towards the end of last year. He had been three times a refugee.


He first became a refugee in 1978, when the Tatmadaw —the Myanmar armed forces—conducted an operation called Naga Min (Dragon King) targeting the Rohingya through the confiscation of possessions, destruction of villages and desecration of mosques. Between the 6th of February and the 31st of July 1978, it is estimated 250,000 fled to Bangladesh, including Jalil and his family who lived in a temporary makeshift camp in Kutupalong for about 8 months until they were repatriated along with 180,000 Rohingya refugees.


The second time Jalil became a refugee was in 1991, when operation Phi Thaya (Clean and Beautiful Nation) was launched by the Tatmadaw resulted in killings, rape, arbitrary arrests and the burning of Rohingya villages. 250,000 Rohingya were forced to fee Bangladesh. Three years later about 150,000 Rohingya refugees, including Jalil's family, were repatriated to Myanmar. An estimated 35,000 Rohingya stayed and currently live in the registered refugee camp in Bangladesh.


Once again in 2017, Jalil was forced to flee to Bangladesh with his family when the Tatmadaw perpetrated one of the worst genocides in recent history. An estimated 725,000 Rohingya refugees were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh.


Jalil was since been living in the refugee camp under crowded conditions, without freedom of movement or the most basic human rights, deprived of access to a healthy environment and to the nature he loved. He had lived with the only hope to go back to Myanmar before he died.

‘My eyes are dying to see my homeland once again. I want to die in my own country.’ —said the late Md Jalil.

Watch the video below to hear Hujjat Ullah discussing about his photo and the story of Muhammad Jalil.

Hujjat Ullah is the eldest of eight siblings. He completed his secondary high school education in 2015 and traveled to Bangladesh to pursue a bachelor's degree in Pharmacy at the International Islamic University in Chittagong, which he completed in 2019. He subsequently earned his master's degree in 2023.

'Every person has different interests and hobbies. Mine is to become a qualified healthcare professional pharmacist,' —he said.


His hobbies include reading, public speaking, and helping people unconditionally. He enjoys listening to the stories and experiences of elderly people.

'I believe that there are many interesting things happening around us, which most people do not notice, but as a photographer, I can capture them.' —Hujjat said.

Additionally, he has worked to secure scholarships for numerous Rohingya students, demonstrating his passion to revolutionise educational pathways for the Rohingya community. Currently, he works as a Rohingya voice-over artist and handles public relations at Zita Channel.


This feature is part of The Rohingya Experience, an exhibition in St Helier, Island of Jersey during July 2024, developed by Rohingyatographer, a collective of Rohingya refugee photographers in partnership with Jersey Overseas Aid.



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