A day on Rohingya’s distant island of Bangladesh By Reuters
© Reuters. Rohingya refugees arrive on Bhasan Char Island
By Mohammad Ponir Hossain
BHASAN CHAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – When a Bangladeshi naval ship anchored off a remote Bay of Bengal, some of the Rohingya Muslim refugees clapped aboard to start a new life on a piece of land that was not two decades ago gave .
They carry poultry and sacks of belongings and belong to a second group of around 1,800 Rohingya that Bangladesh relocated to the low-lying island on Tuesday despite opposition from right-wing groups from cramped refugee camps on the mainland.
“Welcome to Bhasan Char,” read a banner as the refugees walked off the jetty on the island, almost the size of Manhattan. Navy trucks and tractor units took them to rows of concrete houses with their rose-painted tin roofs.
A Reuters photographer was part of a team of journalists who were given less frequent access to the island, about three hours from the nearest port in Chittagong, exposed to the vagaries of nature in a country with a tragic history of deadly storms.
Bangladesh says it has spent more than $ 350 million of its own money on housing and other infrastructure to voluntarily bring around 100,000 Rohingya to the island in an effort to reduce overcrowding in camps near the Myanmar border, though Rights groups said many were forced or paid to move. The government denies the charges.
“Mashallah! Wonderful place,” exclaimed a man, a father of six, using an Arabic expression to appreciate the arrangements at Bhasan Char.
“We’re so happy with the property. The kids are so excited to see the playground,” he said, but added, “We’re just praying floods don’t kill us.”
CHEEK BY JOWL
The government said earlier this month that the enclosure was being built on concrete foundations that could withstand natural disasters and found it withstood Cyclone Amphan in May, which killed more than 100 people in Bangladesh and East India.
A middle-aged man who reached Bhasan Char on Tuesday with his wife and three children said his camp manager had convinced him it would be better to move than to stay in the shabby shelters on the mainland where a million are live from them cheek to cheek.
Reuters is holding back Rohingya names to protect their identities as some in the community oppose moving to the remote island, from which they are not allowed to leave without government permission.
The government built a 2 meter high dam for 12 km (7.5 miles) to protect the island, where sheep grazed on their greenish-gray grass when the new arrivals were checked for coronavirus by health workers in white overalls.
Reuters wasn’t allowed to meet with an earlier group of roughly 1,600 Rohingya who were relocated earlier this month, but a Navy SUV drove journalists through the cemented alleyways that separated neat rows of gray-walled apartment blocks with wide porches.
Journalists were also shown around an empty room with two steel and plastic bunk beds for four, a communal kitchen with several ovens separated by small concrete partitions, and a freshwater pond. A large white bungalow with a fence is reserved for VVIPs in case anyone fancies a visit.
“The Rohingya who have moved there are very happy with the deal,” Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told Reuters.
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