Vancouver lawyer’s photo exhibit to benefit Rohingya refugees

April 5, 2018

By Nick Eagland, Vancouver Sun |

A Vancouver photographer is doing his part to bolster international aid for Rohingya Muslims fleeing horrific violence in Myanmar.

Lawyer Marco Francesco first visited Southeast Asia more than a decade ago to see a friend who was reporting for Reuters in Cambodia and then travelled to Myanmar in 2010. Francesco became enamoured with the country, returning twice more over the next five years and taking photos the whole time, he said.

“The people are incredible,” he said. “The hiking, the scenery, it’s just really untouched in a lot of ways, and very genuine.”

But since last year, an estimated 700,000 of Myanmar’s persecuted ethnic Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape a brutal campaign by Myanmar’s military. The Canadian government and others have referred to the crisis as ethnic cleansing.

Tension in Myanmar was already growing during Francesco’s visits, but “was never as bad as it has been” recently, he said.

In a report Tuesday, Bob Rae, who was appointed Canada’s special envoy to the seven-month-old crisis, recommended that Canada consider granting the Rohingya refugee and resettlement status.

While in Myanmar and Cambodia, Francesco shot thousands of photos of people he met, most of them portraits and action shots. His friends urged him to exhibit the photos in Vancouver, but he felt uncomfortable with the idea.

Pressured again by those friends and an employee at his local coffee shop, The Drive, Francesco agreed to show them — on one condition. As an outsider, he didn’t want to do so unless there was a chance it could help the photos’ subjects, who may have since become refugees or internally displaced.

“I thought, ‘Well, if I’m going to do this, all the proceeds should go to an aid organization that is working with the Rohingya’,” he said.

After some research, Francesco chose the anti-poverty organization BRAC, which tops Geneva-based NGO Advisor’s list of non-governmental organizations rated on impact and governance.

“Hopefully, the people whose images I took get some benefit in one way or another,” he said. “Hopefully.”

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