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« The Rohingya crisis, a rare mix of challenges »

How do you cover a crisis like the Rohingya?

This is one of the worst humanitarian crises for a long time and no one anticipated how big it would become. It is obviously tricky to cover. What we covered and continue to cover in Bangladesh is the result of events in Myanmar and we could only get a sense of that from the refugees fleeing their country. The Myanmar army prevented journalists from accessing the areas where clashes between Rohingya militants and the Myanmar military took place as well as where there was violence against civilians and villages destroyed.

What unusual difficulties did AFP encounter?

We were up against a fairly rare mix of challenges. First of all, this coverage involved four of our offices: Yangon and Dacca, which come under Bangkok and New Delhi respectively. Secondly, it was taking place in a far-flung part of Bangladesh and was the continuation of events that took place also in a far-flung area of Myanmar, which we were unable to access. Then there was the unusual scale and duration of the crisis. When it began on August 25, 2017, no one thought that nearly 700,000 people would flee to the neighbouring country and that this crisis would go on so long.

Does such a drawn-out crisis require special management?

It requires careful organisation in terms of staff, rotations and coordination between bureaus. We had to cover the refugee camps but also try to find out what was happening in Myanmar. On this point, should we also go on press trips organised by the Myanmar military? What risks would we be taking if we tried to cover unauthorised areas? In terms of staff, at the height of the refugee exodus, we could only rotate people from the bureaus directly involved in the coverage. Then we sent reinforcements from other bureaus in the region, like Beijing or Seoul, to replace and relieve the tired teams, especially staff from Dacca. Adding to the challenges was the cost of covering such a drawn-out event in as multimedia a way as possible.

What skills are required for such a complicated situation?

This type of crisis shows the importance of having multi-skilled journalists. We sent text, photo and video teams down there and everyone was able to do everything! One of our text correspondents even got a scoop with his smartphone. It is the type of coverage for which we need staff with good interviewing skills because part of the coverage was based on testimony. As for the photographers, they had to constantly keep their eyes peeled for fresh images.

Let's get back to the scoop. How did that happen?

On the day after the events in Myanmar, we only had a few stringers on the Bangladesh side. So we immediately sent a team down to the border area and one of our text journalists from Dacca, Sam Jahan, had the instinct to film the lines of refugees crossing the river between the two countries, with a barrage of gunfire in the background. It was the first visual content showing that this exodus was the result of military violence. The scoop was picked up by TV stations worldwide and heralded the start of a crisis now covered by the international media.

Will the Agency continue its coverage?

We have not stopped since the end of August 2017. Given how complex the situation is, the AFP coverage has been frankly remarkable, in part thanks to the exceptional work of our bureaus in Dacca and Yangon. We are continuing to bring this tragic story to life in Bangladesh by monitoring changes on the ground and finding new angles, especially in terms of visual production. In Myanmar, we are working in difficult areas, carefully showing how the Myanmar government is repopulating the villages left by the Rohingya. We are really carrying out our mission as a global information provider and we must continue. There may be one million Rohingya refugees but they make the front-page less often than Donald Trump's tweets.

September 14, 2017 – Yangon, Myanmar – The main players in the Rohingya refugee crisis © Paz PIZZARO, William ICKES / AFP

Un webdoc immersif pour saisir le drame des Rohingyas

Datajournaliste au service Infographie et Innovation, Jules Bonnard revendique d’aimer à la fois les reportages et les lignes de code. Les deux se retrouvent dans le webdoc « Kutupalong : l’impasse des Rohingyas » dont il a supervisé la production.

« Notre idée était de permettre la visite de ce camp de réfugiés au Bangladesh en passe de devenir le plus grand du monde », dit-il, précisant s’être appuyé sur les interviews réalisées sur place par Alexandre Marchand, l’envoyé spécial depuis New Delhi, assisté de photographes. Sur une image satellite de DigitalGlobe (société américaine spécialisée dans la capture et la distribution d’images de la Terre en haute résolution), 12 points ont ainsi été identifiés à partir de positions GPS. « Grâce au travail de nos développeurs et graphistes, un clic sur ces points renseigne sur l’histoire et le parcours des personnes rencontrées. On obtient une vision globale à partir de profils très variés. » Premier d’une série depuis complétée – entre autres – par le très remarqué Balles perdues, les vies fauchées des habitants de Rio, ce webdoc immersif est proposé en français, anglais et allemand.

Philippe Massonnet

Philippe Massonnet

Regional Director for Asia-Pacific