The FRANCE 24 Observers team is celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month. To mark the occasion, we selected 10 amateur images – either taken or shared by our Observers – that told the stories behind some of the most significant events of the past decade.
In the first part of our two-part series, we looked at some of our biggest stories between 2008 and 2012.
2013 – The Central African Republic descends into chaos – documented by our Observers
On March 24, rebels from the Seleka coalition seized control of the capital Bangui, just three months after they began their offensive from the northeast of the country. President François Bozizé fled and the head of the Seleka, Michel Djotodia, declared himself president of the republic.
However, Djotodia was unable to re-establish order in the country, and the Seleka rebels frequently looted homes and carried out acts of extreme violence on the population. Some Central Africans, especially people living in Bangui, began to rise up against the violence.
In September, a loose coalition of self-defence militias, who began to call themselves the anti-balaka, took up weapons. Our Observers on the ground alerted us to these events as they were happening.
The violence committed by both the Seleka and the anti-balaka forced many people across the country to flee their homes and move into crowded camps for internally displaced people.
The country was quickly plunging into chaos. In December 2013, France (the former colonial power in the CAR) decided to send soldiers there. So began Operation Sangaris, meant to re-establish order in the country.
2014 – In Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State group gains territory and terrorises the population
While Syria has been mired in conflict since 2011, the birth of the Islamic State jihadist organisation (IS) in 2014 marked a turning point in the conflict. This group took the violence of the crisis to a whole new level by perpetrating massacres and by torturing, decapitating and executing civilians and soldiers. When the group took over towns in the region, the population was forced to follow strict guidelines, or else face punishment based on the most rigid principles of sharia law. All of this was transmitted to the outside world through a slick propaganda machine.
In Raqqa, the self-declared “capital” of the Islamic State, activists risked their lives to film what was happening on the ground (the founder of the group was murdered in late 2015 in Turkey).
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Secretly filming in the IS-group held city of Raqqa
The jihadists met with resistance, however, notably from the Kurds, during the battle for Kobane. After this battle, many people began to support the Kurdish fighters. Many were struck by the stories about Kurdish female fighters, who became symbols of the fight against regressive values.
In Iraq, the Islamic State group managed to seize control of the city of Mosul in several days in June. Thousands of residents fled. In August, after the battle of Sinjar, the jihadists massacred a religious minority group called the Yazidis, accusing them of heresy. They also kidnapped thousands of Yazidi women, forcing them into sexual slavery.
At the end of the year, the United States established a military coalition and began a series of bombings aimed at the IS group.
2015 – The conflict in Yemen goes international: residents suffer under coalition bombs
At the end of March, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes on Yemen for the first time. The coalition’s aim was to protect the Yemeni government against rebels from the Shiite Houthi minority, a group which considers its members to be marginalised.
In 2014, the Houthis held several protests to demand the resignation of the government. Houthi rebels then took over several towns in the country before seizing the presidential palace in January 2015.
Throughout 2015, clashes between rebels and pro-governmental forces as well as coalition airstrikes led to thousands of deaths, many of them civilian.
Our Observers in Aden and Sanaa told us stories about the bombing, the fighting in the streets and how they were trying to protect themselves. Of all the heart-wrenching images of this crisis, we chose this photo showing a homeless family living in a drainage ditch in Sanaa, in an effort to find shelter from the bombs.
2016 – In Europe, migration policy gets tougher and migrants suffer for it
In 2015, more than a million migrants arrived in Europe. Many of them were Syrians who landed in Greece before taking what was called the “Balkan route” towards western Europe. In 2016, however, only a third of this number landed on Europe’s shores. This is because of two key reasons: first, because of the closure of the Balkan route and, second, because of the agreement made between the European Union and Turkey that undocumented migrants could be sent back to Turkey.
In 2016, xenophobia was on the rise in Europe and it sometimes spilled over into violence – a frightening phenomenon documented by our Observers.
In Hungary, an anti-migrant fence was constructed. The mayor of one Hungarian town decided to hunt down migrants himself with the aid of militia men. There were also many cases reported of police violence against migrants alongside the Serbian-Hungarian border. Bulgaria also built an anti-migrant wall and a far-right group here also began to hunt down migrants, which is illegal, but tolerated by the authorities. Many migrants also found themselves stranded at border crossings in the Balkans.
One of our Observers contacted us from Moria camp, which houses many migrants on the island of Lesbos. Since the EU signed the agreement with Turkey, Moria has essentially become a detention camp managed by the police and the army. People living there also face harsh conditions with little protection. Our Observer also sent us this video where you can see gusts of wind practically blowing away the tents where migrants have to sleep.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 5,098 people died in the Mediterranean in 2016, compared to 3,784 in 2015.
2017 – From Burma to Bangladesh, the astonishing exodus of Rohingya Muslims
The Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority that mostly lives in the west of Burma, have been discriminated against, disenfranchised and persecuted for decades.
On August 25, rebels from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked several police posts in the state of Rakhine.
The Burmese army responded with brutal attacks against local civilians, who they accused of supporting the rebels. Burmese soldiers burned and pillaged homes and carried out extrajudicial killings. According to medical charity Doctors Without Borders, 6,700 Rohingya were killed between August 25 and September 24 in what the United Nations has called a campaign of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Burmese army. More than 640,000 others fled across the border to Bangladesh. Our Observers described this harrowing journey.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh, their "only chance of survival”
Many doctored and misappropriated images have been circulating online in the context of this conflict. Both sides -- the Burmese authorities and Rohingya activists – are responsible for manipulating images.