Des­per­ate Ro­hingya take per­ilous swim

The Province - - WORLD NEWS -

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.

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.

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. On the af­ter­noon of Nov. 3, Nabi joined a group of 23 other young men.

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.

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.

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