Drowning ‘a better option,’ say Rohingya
SHAH PORIR DWIP, BANGLADESH • Nabi Hussain owes his life to a yellow plastic oil container.
The 13-year-old Rohingya boy couldn’t swim, and had never even seen the sea before fleeing his village in Myanmar. But he clung to the empty container and struggled across the water with it for about four kilometres, all the way to Bangladesh.
Rohingya Muslims escaping the violence in their homeland of Myanmar are now so desperate that some are trying to swim to safety in neighbouring Bangladesh. In just a week, more than three dozen boys and young men used cooking oil containers like life rafts to swim across the mouth of the Naf River and wash ashore in Shah Porir Dwip, a fishing town and cattle trade spot.
“I was so scared of dying,” said Nabi, a lanky boy in a striped polo shirt and checkered dhoti. “I thought it was going to be my last day.”
Although Rohingya Muslims have lived in Myanmar for decades, the country’s Buddhist majority still sees them as invaders from Bangladesh. The government denies them basic rights, and the United Nations has called them the most persecuted minority in the world. Just since August, after their homes were torched by Buddhist mobs and soldiers, more than 600,000 Rohingya have risked the trip to Bangladesh.
“We had a lot of suffering, so we thought drowning in the water was a better option,” said Kamal Hussain, 18, who also swam to Bangladesh with an oil container.
Nabi’s family fled, heading to the coast, passing dead bodies.
But every day, there was less food. So after four days, Nabi told his parents he wanted to swim the delta to reach the thin line of land he could see in the distance — Shah Porir Dwip.
His parents didn’t want him to go. Eventually, though, they agreed, on the condition that he not go alone. So on the afternoon of Nov. 3, Nabi joined a group of 23 other young men, and his family came to see him off.
Nabi and the others strapped the cooking oil containers to their chests as floats, and stepped into the water just as the current started to shift toward Bangladesh. The men stayed in groups of three, tied together with ropes.
Just after sundown, the group reached Shah Porir Dwip, exhausted, hungry and dehydrated.
Nabi is now alone, one of an estimated 40,000 unaccompanied Rohingya Muslim children living in Bangladesh.
Nabi Hussain, 13, holds the yellow plastic drum he used as a flotation device while crossing the Naf River from Myanmar to Bangladesh.