‘Pray the flood won’t kill us’: a day on the remote Rohingya island in Bangladesh

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* About 1,800 more Rohingya moved to Bhasan Char

* Bangladesh wants to relocate 100,000 refugees on the island

* Rights groups warn of island’s vulnerability to storms

By Mohammad Ponir Hossain

BHASAN CHAR, Bangladesh, December 29 (Reuters) – As a Bangladeshi Navy ship anchored off a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, some of the Rohingya Muslim refugees on board cheered in anticipation of starting a new life on a piece of land that didn’t even exist. two decades ago.

Carrying poultry and bags of personal belongings, they are part of a second group of around 1,800 Rohingya that Bangladesh transferred from cramped refugee camps on the mainland to the Lower Island on Tuesday despite opposition from the rights groups. to Bhasan Char, “a banner read as the refugees left the island’s pier, almost as large as Manhattan. Navy trucks and semi-trailers took them to several rows of concrete houses with their tin roofs. painted in pinkish red.

A Reuters photographer was part of a team of journalists with rare access to the island, located about three hours from the nearest port of Chittagong, and fully exposed to the vagaries of nature in a country with a tragic history deadly storms.

Bangladesh says it has spent more than $ 350 million of its own money preparing housing and other infrastructure to voluntarily relocate some 100,000 Rohingya to the island to reduce overcrowding in camps near the border with Myanmar, although rights groups said many were being coerced. or paid to move. The government denies the charges.

“Mashallah! Wonderful place,” exclaimed a man, father of six, using an Arabic expression to appreciate the arrangements at Bhasan Char.

“We are so happy with the accommodation. The kids are so excited to see the playground,” he said, but added, “We just pray the floods don’t kill us.”

CHEEK TO CHEEK

The government said earlier this month that the housing was built on concrete foundations that could withstand natural disasters, noting that it had weathered Cyclone Amphan in May that killed more than 100 people in Bangladesh and the east of India.

A middle-aged man who reached Bhasan Char with his wife and three children on Tuesday said his camp leader had convinced him that it was better to move than to stay in dilapidated shelters on the mainland where a million ‘between them live cheek by jowl.

Reuters is withholding the names of the Rohingya to protect their identity as some members of the community are against moving to the isolated island from where they will not be allowed to leave without government permission.

The government built an embankment 2 meters (6.5 feet) high by 12 km (7.5 miles) to protect the island, where sheep grazed on its greenish gray grass as new arrivals were scouted for the coronavirus by health workers in white coveralls.

Reuters was not allowed to meet a previous group of some 1,600 Rohingya who had been transferred earlier this month, but a Navy SUV led reporters through the cemented lanes separating neat rows of walled housing blocks gray with wide porches.

Journalists were also shown around an empty room with two steel and plastic bunk beds for four, a community kitchen with several stoves separated by small concrete partitions, and a freshwater pond. A large white bungalow surrounded by a fence is reserved for VVIPs in case anyone wishes a visit.

“The Rohingya who have moved there are very happy with the arrangement,” Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told Reuters.

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