Ayatollah (extreme right) saved from human traffickers, reunited with mother Elom Bahar, son and younger brother 9 months later in Bhasan Char. 31 December 2020
Ayatollah (extreme right) saved from human traffickers, reunited with mother Elom Bahar, son and younger brother 9 months later in Bhasan Char. 31 December 2020 Raheed Ejaz

Determined to escape the miserable confines life in the Rohingya camp in Cox's Bazar, Deen Mohammad and Ayatullah decided to set out for Malaysia. They even borrowed to arrange money to pay the 'agent' for the dangerous sea voyage. But in the end, they could not set foot in Malaysia, the land of their dreams.

After drifting 51 days on the sea, they finally found shelter in Bhashan Char in May last year, but they remained isolated from their families in Cox Bazar. Finally, on 29 December, they reunited with their near ones. They have found a new life on Bhashan Char.

On Thursday morning, the residents of the small island were seen engaged in various activities, in their endeavour for a new beginning. The Rohingyas were fishing in the nearby water bodies too.

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The story of Deen Mohammad and Ayatullah is quite similar to that of other victims of human trafficking. Deen Mohammad said, “I have four unmarried sisters. As their elder brother, I was trying to go to Malaysia to earn money. I borrowed money and paid a 'dalal' (agent) Tk 220,000 when I was in Kutupalong. We started out in March and were stranded in the sea for 51 days. Finally we were rescued by the Bangladesh Navy. They brought us here.” But he was still isolated from his wife Sanjida and their child.

They reunited at Bhashan Char on 29 December. Sanjida said, “All the loans will be repaid somehow, but I will not let my husband fall prey to the sea ever again.”

Ayatullah’s story is even more painful. He lost his small shop along with all the money he paid to the agent in the process. His wife went back to her father’s house when he departed for Malaysia. Their three-year-old son has been living with his grandmother, Elom Bahar, since March. Elom Bahar, a resident of the Jamtali Rohingya camp, said her son departed for Malaysia as there was very little scope of earning at Cox Bazar Rohingya camp, but he had almost drowned to death, let alone set foot on Malaysia. However, she will not let her son engage in such a dangerous gamble again.

Then there was Mukhtar Ahmed. The 70-year-old man came to Bhashan Char with his family a month ago. He said, "We want to return to Rakhine, but the situation is still turbulent there. We still hear of sporadic incidents. The environment is not conducive for return as yet. How can we return? The Bangladesh government has arranged this spacious and open place for our accommodation, so this is good"

While talking with Mukhtar, four or five children thronged around Shahjahan’s popcorn van. Shahjahan is from Noakhali. He started this small business when the Rohingyas started to live on this island. He earns about Tk 2500 on average from this.

Right on the opposite Shahjahan’s van is Jahangir’s 'singara' shop. Jahangir came from Kutupalong, Cox's Bazar. He started this snack shop just three days ago and has earned around 500 taka on average.

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Gradually settling in, Rohingyas were seen enjoying football and volleyball last Wednesday. Under the project of “Ashrayan-3”, a sports club and music club was inaugurated the day before.

Chief of the project, Commodore Abdullah-Al-Mamun Chowdhury said the government is trying to ensure basic facilities for the Rohingyas who came from Cox Bazar camp. The clubs were opened under this initiative. The main purpose behind this is to keep these people busy with various recreations rather than sit idle.

The government has relocated 3,646 Rohingyas from Cox's Bazar to Bhashan Char till now. They have a target of shifting 100,000 Rohingyas to the island in total.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu