“We’ve heard about the island, but we do not want to go,” Anwara says as she pulls out a stool and places it in front of her tent in the Kutupalong refugee camp in southern Bangladesh. “The Bangladeshi tell us they’re going to lock us all up on an island,” her husband adds. The island is the most widespread rumour among the Rohingya, who live cramped in precarious shacks defying the gravity of the fragile mud hills. Homes that were not built to withstand the monsoon and that can become a deadly trap in the rainy season.
When more than 700,000 refugees appeared in these lands in September, they settled in a totally disorderly manner. They cleaned any type of vegetation, trees and roots that served to sustain the subsoil of these elevations, which is now the only land that can collapse with the first rains. Proof of this is that the roots of some trees emerge from the vacuum in certain parts of the field.
“We are scared, we can have floods in the fields and landslides because many people live on top of the hillsides, and with the rains, the houses will fall,” explains Mohammed Firaz, who is maji, one of the spokesmen of the communities in the fields.
The Government of Bangladesh has found a controversial solution for 100,000 Rohingya: it will be moved to the island of Bashan Char, which literally means “floating island”. Fishermen say that it emerged in 2005 as a result of the accumulation of sediments, a few kilometres offshore of Chittagong, in the Bay of Bengal. But until two years ago it was the land of pirates, who used the island as a place to hold their hostages, most of them fishermen while negotiating the rescue.
A day trip
To get to the island you have to invest a day of travel, taking several transport combinations that include two boats and a ‘tuk-tuk’ (the traditional small-displacement motorcycles with a carriage mounted on two small wheels that normally have the capacity for two people) that crosses the entire previous island.
The first sight of Bashan Char is the fifty boats moored on its coast. And as you approach the muddy bank, you see a row of workers carrying bulky bulks on top of their heads. They unload material of construction of the boats for the new houses where they foresee to move in the next weeks to 100,000 Rohingyas.
Getting off the boat is not an easy task, the mud makes the shore a totally slippery terrain, but the island, formed by sedition, only rises a few meters above sea level. The place is a continuous coming and going of trucks, tractors and excavators. The authorities fight against time. The start of the monsoon is imminent.
“We have to finish before the end of April, we are building roads, 1440 houses and 120 cyclone shelters,” explains Sharif, who is in charge of one of the 30 companies that work on the island. Your company is Bangladeshi but there are also foreign companies, especially Chinese.
“They will have better houses than mine, but we are raising them several meters above the ground, foreseeing possible flooding,” Sharif adds, and fishermen say that up to two-thirds of the island is usually submerged by the rising tides. temporary the barges will not have the capacity to approach an island that has neither drinking water nor food to survive.
Asylum in a third country
Nothing makes one think that once there they have the option to leave. Officially the Government of Dhaka has acknowledged that they can only leave the island to return to their native Burma or if they receive asylum from a third country. “It is not a concentration camp, but there will be restrictions,” said presidential adviser Hossain Toufique Imam. Therefore, the option of moving to the island can be as dangerous as staying in the fields or returning to Burma.
Hazi Mahbubul Bashar, 68, is tired of a life necessarily nomadic. It is the second time that he has fled Burma and has taken refuge in Bangladesh. “If now they force me to go to the island, I will commit suicide, warns bluntly.
Source: El Periodico