#NoRightToExist is an on-going photo project by Canadian-Mexican photographer Patricia Krivanek.
Being stateless and having no identity simply does not cross the minds of the majority of peoples around the world, and when Patricia befriended Laila and Siti about 6 months ago, she knew she had to tell their story. There are many Rohingya refugees living in Malaysia, and aided by private organisations and charities.
Laila and Siti have no right to exist. Before they were born, their parents fled their home country of Myanmar and landed in Malaysia, a country which is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not grant legal status to refugees, including their Malaysian born children. Along with their parents, Laila and Siti have been denied one of the most fundamental rights upon which all other rights depend.
“Caught between two cultures – never completely accepted in either.”
Without a nationality, these young women have been robbed of their rights to identification, education, healthcare, employment, and freedom of movement. In other words, they have never had any rights.
This project portrays two sisters and their unconventional, but not uncommon, refugee story that does not include a journey of any kind.
Second-generation refugees have a different experience than their parents. Language and cultural barriers dissolve, but with them, so does a sense of identity and community. Caught between two cultures – never completely accepted in either – they only have each other.
The aim of Patricia’s project is to generate greater empathy and understanding of the refugee crisis through a long-term lens. While most mainstream media coverage portrays harrowing journeys and struggle to integrate into new societies, it is not often that we get to know the challenges they face down the line, for them, their children, or their children’s children.
Unfortunately, Malaysia is not unique in the region. With nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees scattered
throughout South and Southeast Asia, countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, India and
Pakistan are also not signatories to the Refugee Convention. The persecution of Rohingya people within Myanmar continues to this day as does the deep sense of exclusion towards refugees in the region, which has only intensified with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. With no physical community, social media is one of the spaces the sisters can inhabit to express themselves and create their own identities.
They carefully choose their wardrobe and makeup and spend their time self-directing their photoshoots throughout the city of Kuala Lumpur. Creating ‘insta-stories’ and posts connect them to a world beyond their reality. Here, they join other young women of their generation in a land that allows them to dream, create and project.
Laila and Siti exist here.
The way the sisters use social media inspired the framework for telling their stories. Some of the images in this series were developed and directed by Laila and Siti themselves, giving them a voice in the representation of their own identity – the very thing they have been robbed of in other aspects of their
lives. Through the universal visual language of social media, we can reframe our understanding of
refugees by removing the element of ‘otherness’ and enhancing the element of ‘sameness’.
We can see them as they wish to be seen.
Patricia Krivanek is currently based in Malaysia, and has a background in anthropology and humanitarian relief. She has lived and worked in over 17 countries. Through her photography, she seeks to highlight
stories that speak to the human experience with the goal of generating empathy through a form of visual anthropology. Patricia’s images have been exhibited in international exhibitions including Edition 365 with the British Journal of Photography and Exposure+ Photo in Kuala Lumpur. In 2021, one of her images was selected as a finalist for the Canon Malaysia Award in the Kuala Lumpur Photoawards 2021.