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Directors Latest Work Magazine Richard Swarbrick

Médecins Sans Frontières: Depicting the Rohingya crisis.

Richard Swarbrick and Presence have completed a huge animation project about the Rohingya for MSF.

In less than 24 hours the film had 3.7 million views, 1,700 comments, 13,100 shares and 47,000 likes on facebook alone, bringing in much needed donations for the charity.

In 2017, the world’s attention focused on Myanmar’s Rohingya, ethnic Muslims who are today the largest stateless group in the world. The horrific violence against them in Northern Rakhine, together with the dramatic footage of their displacement to Bangladesh, highlighted decades of state-sanctioned discrimination. For several months the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district buzzed with media crews. But as with most crises, they soon packed off in search of the next big story. The headlines moved on, but the Rohingya’s situation has remained as intractable as ever.

To put an individual face on the Rohingya and help viewers grasp the human cost of their displacement, MSF commissioned the celebrated British artist Richard Swarbrick who works through Presence to produce an animation. Driven along with powerful lyrics from the song Give Me Hope by British band Three Laws, Swarbrick’s rotoscope animation generates empathy for the people in the video, who are caught between structural violence and global indifference. The goal was to “present the truth as best as we can,”says Swarbrick. “Hopefully that can inspire people to talk about the situation and to talk about refugees without negative prejudice.”

The story begins in Rakhine State, Myanmar, where we see the protagonist, a Rohingya man, going about life in his rural village. He prays and tends his cattle but, with his community, is held prisoner by discriminatory policies. 

As those policies morph into physical violence, the song’s pace quickens. Houses are burnt down and people scatter. The protagonist, depicted in blue, flees with others, risking a treacherous journey across the water to Bangladesh. The scenes evoke the chaos of the moment, with families scrambling not to leave elderly or ailing relatives behind. 

Interview with Richard Swarbrick

Once in Bangladesh, the refugees must start from scratch, taking shelter under flimsy tents. The song hurries the narrative along, conveying the despondency of displacement and the urgent need for a resolution. The harm inflicted upon the Rohingya as a result of targeted discrimination and violence is made worse by the lack of prospects for the future. Cut off from work or education opportunities, there is little for people to do in the camps. With no political solutions in sight for the Rohingya, the song lyrics “give me hope … I don’t know where it went”, resonate deeply.

During the making of the film I learned a lot about the situation,says Swarbrick.“There’s a kind of hopelessness and there isn’t any immediate light at the end of the tunnel. I also learned the scale of the crisis is almost incomprehensible. The fact that the [Kutupalong-Balukhali] refugee camp is so big that you are able to see it from space just blows my mind.”

Throughout the story, the refugee experience is shown through their eyes: man, woman, child. The animation cuts through abstract statistics of far-flung conflicts and shows the human cost of violence and displacement. #presenceteam