In September 2017, in a muddy makeshift village in Bangladesh just across the border from Myanmar, Rohingya refugees showed Nathan VanderKlippe ’01 videos on their smartphones.
“They had videos of men fishing the bodies of children out of rivers, of people lying on the ground with their heads cracked open and brains spilling out, of girls being carried away with flaps of flesh hanging from their knees because they’d stepped on land mines,” VanderKlippe said. “It was the single hardest story I’ve ever covered.”
For that story, which documented not only the horrors of Rohingya fleeing the Myanmar military but also the historical and political roots of the crisis, human rights organization Amnesty International Canada presented VanderKlippe with its 2017 media award for national print journalism. He’s Asia correspondent for Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.
Shortly after receiving the award in April, VanderKlippe was back in Bangladesh to update the Rohingya exodus story. It hasn’t gotten any easier, he said.
“More than 600,000 refugees are living in shelters made of bamboo poles and plastic sheeting set on deforested, terraced hillsides of silt, sand, and clay. Monsoon season will bring 2.5 meters of rain in three months. There’s a lot of fear about landslides and what that will mean.
“I think it’s hugely important that we think about this really horrific situation.”
The Rohingya’s is not the only story of ethnic persecution that VanderKlippe has covered—and been recognized for. He won his first media award from Amnesty International Canada in 2014 for outstanding reporting on China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority. Chinese officials also recognized him for that story. While in the Uyghur’s home region, Xinjiang, last December, he was detained for three hours and had his computer confiscated.
VanderKlippe said he doesn’t dwell on either the danger or the horror he experiences. “There’s no time. You go, you write the story, then you move on to the next one.”