Stateless in their own country, many of Myanmar’s Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. But to get by in a foreign and hostile land, they must often pretend to be locals.

In Myanmar’s 2014 population census, there was no option to register as Rohingya. The only way members of the Muslim minority group could be counted by their own government was if they identified themselves as immigrants from a neighboring country: Bangladesh.

It doesn’t matter how long the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar, officials there see them as invaders who want to establish a Muslim insurgency in the predominantly Buddhist state of Rakhine. In 1982, the government passed a law that failed to recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous race of Myanmar because they were unable to prove residence in the region before the year 1823. But experts agree: the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries.

Stateless in their own country, the estimated 1.3 million Rohingya have been victims of restricted movement, land confiscation, forced labor, torture, marriage and child birth restrictions, medical and educational inequalities, false imprisonment, rape, arson and murder. Several armed operations led by Myanmar’s military government were expressly aimed at driving the Rohingya out. In 2012, a series of attacks left more than 140,000 Rohingya internally displaced, forced to live in squalid camps near the Rakhine capitol of Sittwe. Myanmar’s current president, Thein Sein, has gone as far as asking other countries to take the estimated 1.3 million Rohingya out of Myanmar

An elderly Rohingya woman who was forced to escape the 2012 violence in Myanmar, sits under a tree in the hills of Himchori, Cox’s Bazaar District.

A short trip across the Naf River, Bangladesh has officially accepted 32,000 Rohingya refugees onto its territory while hundreds of thousands of others have come into the country illegally. But apart from their shared religion, Bangladeshis and the Rohingya don’t have much in common. For those refugees that moved into Cox’s Bazaar District or Bandarban District, it’s all about assimilation and keeping a low profile. They blend in and try to become part of a society that is, for them, quite foreign. Those who are particularly good at knowing how to deal with the authorities end up having multiple identities. It’s possible for some to go as far as to enroll in universities and even to buy passports. But in order to do this, they must pretend to be Bangladeshi.

The less fortunate refugees live in camps near the border with Myanmar. Conditions are especially dire in the makeshift camps, which are swelling despite Bangladesh’s decision to close the border in 2012. Families are starving, suffering from curable illnesses and living in huts that become unbearably hot or cold depending on the weather. The sense of desperation is high. Conditions are slightly better in official camps, where about 32,000 people get access to basic medical care, basic education and food rations from the United Nations. Just last month, however, the Bangladeshi government said it was looking to move these refugees, partly because they were hurting tourism in the resort district. Their proposed solution: relocating them to Thengar Char, a remote island that gets entirely flooded at high tide.

Rohingya children walk along a ridge at the edge of Kutupalong makeshift refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar District.
A group of Rohingya refugees stand in the woods at Leda makeshift camp near Teknaf.
A group of Rohingya boys walk through Leda makeshift camp.
A Block, Leda makeshift camp. Approximately 40,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees live at Leda.
Children wash for prayer at a Rohingya madras in Naikhongchuri, Bandarban.
Zayed (right) from Nayapara official refugee camp sits in a Bangladeshi tea shop in Teknaf.
Anar Ahmed, an engineering student at Chittagong Islamic University, and a Rakhine friend bargain with a CNG driver in Cox’s Bazaar.
Anar Ahmed holds a photograph of Mohamed Hussein who died at sea trying to reach Malaysia.
Rohingya men prepare fishing nets on boats along the beach at Shamalapur makeshift refugee camp. Rohingya men work for several days at a time fishing on the Bay of Bengal for Bangladeshi boat owners. In many cases the labor goes to pay off debts to the boat owners that were accrued during the slow fishing season.
Unregistered Rohingya refugees wait at a health Clinic run by UK based Muslim Aid. Leda makeshift camp, December 2014. The NGO had been providing basic medical aid to Rohingyas from 2008 until the Bangladeshi government shut them down earlier this year.
Rohingya boys embrace at Shamalapur makeshift Refugee camp. More than 20,000 unregistered Rohingya refugees live in this Cox’s Bazaar District camp.
Rohingya children run through hills in Himchori where a small number of Rohingyas have made their home.