Rohingya Voices: The Painter of Nayapara Refugee Camp

“Life of Rohingya Women” by Enayet Khan

“Nothing is impossible,” says 22-year-old Rohingya artist Enayet Khan, summing up his approach to life. Enayet spends his days painting inside his shelter at the Nayapara refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. The camps are home to almost a million Rohingya refugees who fled horrific violence and persecution in Myanmar. Enayet’s shelter is one of hundreds of thousands, jostling for space in the hills just across the border. In his young life, Enayet has experienced more hardship than imaginable to most. He was eighteen years old when he arrived in Bangladesh with his parents and five siblings after walking for days with nothing but the clothes on their backs.For refugees living in the camps in Cox’s Bazaar, every day is a struggle — storms and floods are common, and the past year has been marked by several major fires, which blazed through the camps, destroying thousands of makeshift homes. Art has offered a way for him to reflect on and express what he and his community experienced.His paintings depict the military clearance operations in Myanmar and the Rohingya community’s escape across the border to Bangladesh. They show children struggling with the trauma they have experienced and the challenges of life in the refugee camps. Enayet also captures joyful scenes — portraits of friends and the beauty of the landscape. “If I want to explain anything, it is not through talking or writing, but through my art” he says.

Enayet Khan, painting outside his shelter in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar refugee camps.

Enayet grew up watching his uncle, a well-known artist in their village in Myanmar and began to draw at an early age. As he grew older, he realized he preferred to spend his time drawing and painting rather than playing sports with friends. “I wanted to be able to study art and become a full time artist”, Enayet says. But even with his talent, as a young man from the Rohingya community, the opportunities available to him were limited. The 600,000 Rohingya who still live in Rakhine State in Myanmar are largely deprived of citizenship rights and their ability to move and travel freely is severely restricted. The impact of such constraints touches every aspect of life: Rohingya are often not allowed to travel to nearby town centers — leaving them unable to access schools, markets, and healthcare services, even in emergencies. One hundred twenty-six thousand of the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar have been confined to camps, since being forcibly relocated there in 2012. When the military regime seized power in February 2021, the situation for Rohingya in Myanmar became even more precarious. Without addressing the underlying causes of violence and persecution, so many Rohingya both inside and outside of Myanmar remain displaced and unable to return to their homes.

Enayet finds solace in nature, with his family and in his art. He describes himself as an introvert and says he often climbs one of the many hills that surround the Cox’s Bazaar camps, in order to find a quiet moment and take in the broad horizon. “I do not want to waste time,” Enayet says. “Every second is important and valuable in life. Enjoy life today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow is never promised.” Oxfam is proud to feature Enayet and his paintings as part of our Rohingya Arts Campaign 2021. The campaign marks four years since the flight of more than 700,000 Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh and aims to provide a platform for Rohingya artists to share their work and the stories of their community with the world. You can see more of Enayet’s paintings below and all of the winning pieces from Rohingya artists on Oxfam’s website here.

These paintings and other works by artists featured as part of the Rohingya Arts Campaign reflect the creative perspectives of the artists and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oxfam.

“Sittwe” by Enayet Khan depicts a scene from Sittwe, the capital city of Rakhine State in Myanmar and home to many Rohingya who are now living in exile.
Enayet’s depiction Rohingya refugees escape to Bangladesh in 2017.
“Fire Incident” by Enayet Khan shows Rohingya refugees fleeing one of the deadly fires that has ripped through the camps in Bangladesh over the past year. Refugees had to tear holes in the fencing surrounding the camps to be able to escape and save the lives of others.
“Refugees Rebuild”by Enayet Khanis the follow up to “Fire Incident in the Refugee Camp,” and shows the effort and leadership of Rohingya refugees as they rebuild in the aftermath of the fire.
Enayet’s depiction of the monsoon season in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps.

Oxfam is a world-wide development organization that mobilizes the power of people against poverty.