Nabi Hussain owes his life to a yellow plastic oil drum. The 13-year-old Rohingya boy could not swim, and had never even seen the sea before fleeing his village in Myanmar. But he clung to the empty drum and struggled across the water with it for about 2.5 miles, 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 drums like life rafts to swim across the mouth of the Naf river and wash up 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 drum.