Photo Essays | Society | Southeast Asia

The World of Rohingya Refugees

A view of Rohingya life — and crucial medical care — inside the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp.

By Susannah Schaefer for
The World of Rohingya Refugees

The settlement near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh is now home to nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees.

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

Rohingya people arrive at refugee camps after fleeing from persecution in their home in Rakhine state, Myanmar.

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

With the arrival of monsoon season in Bangladesh, more than an estimated 200,000 refugees will be at risk from floods and landslides.

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

Faysal H., a teacher in the refugee camps, leads children in a language recital at one of the many schools striving to educate as many children residents as possible. Seated on mats around the edge of the room, there are two dozen students, backpacks on the floor in front of them, providing substitutes for desks.

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

A young mother residing in the camp near Cox’s Bazar holds her child, who was born with a cleft lip. While oftentimes seen as simply a cosmetic issue, children born with cleft lip and/or palate often experience trouble eating, speaking, and breathing correctly – sometimes resulting in death

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

Hedayet U., a young patient within the refugee camp, meets Smile Train partner surgeon Dr. Bijoy Krishna Das from the Child Health Awareness Foundation (CHAF) before his surgery.

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

Dr. Das, alongside attending doctors, performs cleft surgery for a young patient in the refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

A Rohingya boy, who escaped the violence in Rakhine state, lifts his shirt to reveal a gunshot wound spanning his chest.

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

Parents cradle their baby following a successful cleft repair surgery in the refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train
The World of Rohingya Refugees

Smile Train is committed to the continued dedication of resources for assisting Rohingya refugees born with cleft lip and palate in the settlements throughout Cox’s Bazar

Credit: Stefano Levi for Smile Train

Since August 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people – a majority-Muslim ethnic group from Myanmar’s Rakhine state – have been subjected to extreme violence and persecution, forced to flee from their homes to the Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Traditionally, when we think of refugees and their needs, we focus on addressing the most urgent needs – access to food, water, shelter, and basic medical care. What may not immediately come to mind is that many refugees arrive to refugee camps with significant pre-existing health conditions.

In the midst of the extreme challenges faced by those in the makeshift settlements, Smile Train – an organization which champions sustainable solutions for cleft care in developing countries – saw a way in which they could assist in Bangladesh. Over the past several months, the organization has worked to redefine healthcare delivery for refugees by offering free cleft surgery and other specialized cleft care services, such as infant feeding support for mothers to post-surgery speech services for children.

A photographer recently traveled to Cox’s Bazar on behalf of Smile Train to capture footage to help outsiders better grasp the difficult conditions faced by the Rohingya people.

The following photos outline his journey.

Susannah Schaefer is Executive Vice Chair and CEO, Smile Train.