On Bhasan Char, Rohingya refugees observe Eid without family festivities

A Rohingya refugee woman carries her child as she walks through a market in Bhasan Char on June 16, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 16 June 2024

On Bhasan Char, Rohingya refugees observe Eid without family festivities

  • More than 35,000 Rohingya have been relocated to Bhasan Char since end of 2020
  • It is illegal for refugees to leave the remote Bangladeshi island

DHAKA: Sebon Bahar’s fondest memories of Eid Al-Adha are the hug she would share with her mother to celebrate the occasion, an experience that has grown distant now that she is living on a remote Bangladeshi island.

For the last three years, the Islamic holiday that is synonymous with family gatherings has not felt the same for Bahar following her move to Bhasan Char.

“My Eid celebrations remain incomplete without this precious hug with my mother … Here on this island, I miss this most during Eid as my mom is living at Cox’s Bazar,” she told Arab News on Sunday.

“Without my family members, especially my mother … I feel like it’s not a special day … I haven’t seen my relatives who live in Cox’s Bazar for over three years.” 

Bahar is among more than 35,000 Rohingya who since the end of 2020 have been moved to Bhasan Char as authorities seek to ease pressure on the congested camps at Cox’s Bazar, which is home to more than 1 million refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar.

Located in the Bay of Bengal, the island settlement is several hours by boat away from the mainland.

The fourth Eid Al-Adha on Bhasan Char has not eased the feeling of isolation for its residents, many of whom are missing their extended family even more during the Feast of Sacrifice as leaving the facility is illegal for refugees on the island.

On Eid, Bahar said she makes calls to relatives in an attempt to “feel the special day,” trying to replicate the time she was still living in Cox’s Bazar, when the holiday meant friends and families visiting each other and gossiping over shared food.

While the 30-year-old is grateful for the improved parts of her life in Bhasan Char, where there is more safety, access to fresh seafood and good housing, refugees still struggle with a lack of access to quality education, high cost of goods and also inability to leave the island.

“There is no hope in this island life, and also Cox’s Bazar camp life. I am living life with only one hope nowadays, that one day I will be able to return to Myanmar with citizenship rights,” Bahar said.

Eid celebrations are not the same for Mohammed Abdul Jalil either, as he celebrates his third such holiday on the island.

“Eid celebrations without relatives and family members here at Bhasan Char are boring to me,” Jalil told Arab News.

“Yes, we are in touch with each other through mobile phones, but having chit-chat sitting face to face can’t be compared with two to three minutes of mobile phone conversation. Visiting each other is the most special thing we usually practice as part of Eid.”

He is hoping that the day comes soon when he can return to Myanmar.

“On this island, I just want to reside until our dignified repatriation to our motherland with full rights. As a refugee on this island, I have no other dream or expectations,” Jalil said.

In spite of the hardships and uncertainties, many refugees try their best to make a festive occasion such as Eid as special as possible.

“My Eid celebrations center around the joy of my children, and I always try to do my best to make the day special for my children,” Monira Begum said.

Like Bahar and Jalil, Eid for Begum was also about spending time and sharing food with her extended family — an experience she has not been able to have for the last four years in Bhasan Char.

As she prepares for Eid Al-Adha, which will be observed on Monday in Bangladesh, Begum plans to make traditional snacks for her family.

“I have powdered rice grain to make our traditional snacks, sweet sticky rice cake. I bought some clothes for my children, cosmetics for my daughters, though I am unable to offer a sacrificial animal … This is how I am going to celebrate Eid this year,” Begum said.

Cyprus plans to build a major naval base to play a larger geopolitical role, says defense minister

An Open Arms ship and ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail.
Updated 17 July 2024

Cyprus plans to build a major naval base to play a larger geopolitical role, says defense minister

  • Cyprus has in recent months been staging ground for collection and delivery of donated humanitarian aid to Gaza
  • Aid is being shipped from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the Palestinian territory after being security screened

NICOSIA: Cyprus’ defense minister said Wednesday that plans are in motion to build a major naval base on the east Mediterranean island nation’s southern coast capable of hosting large ships from European Union countries and other nations to carry out a variety of missions including humanitarian aid deliveries to the tumultuous Middle East region.
Vasilis Palmas told reporters that Cyprus’ recently elevated geopolitical role as the European Union’s closest member to the Middle East warrants the building of infrastructure that can support policies geared toward the region.
Cyprus has in recent months been the staging ground for the collection and delivery of donated humanitarian aid to war-ravaged Gaza. The aid is being shipped from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the Palestinian territory after being security screened. Last year, Cyprus served as a waystation for third-country nationals evacuated from Sudan.
Palmas said the construction of the base would “contribute decisively” to policy implementation in the region.
He said Greece is contributing technical know-how to the project, while actual construction will be guided by the findings of an expert study that will be completed in the next few days.
The naval base will be built on an existing naval installation some 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of the coastal town of Limassol, which in 2011 was the site of a huge explosion of 480 tons of seized Iranian gunpowder that killed 13 people, knocked out Cyprus’ main power station and stirred up a political crisis.

190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

Updated 17 July 2024

190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

ABU DHABI: The UAE has succeeded in securing the exchange of 190 prisoners of war between Russian and Ukraine, state news agency WAM has reported.

The UAE now secured the release of 1,558 captives with its sixth successful mediation effort between the warring parties, less than one month after the previous exchange process, the report added.

“These efforts reflect the UAE’s commitment to being a reliable mediator supporting diplomacy to resolve the crisis between the two countries,” a statement for the UAE’s foreign ministry said.

The UAE was committed to ‘continuing all efforts and initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, stressing the importance of dialogue, and de-escalation, as the only ways to resolve the conflict, and for mitigating its humanitarian repercussions,’ it added.

The UAE also managed to negotiate the exchange of two prisoners between the United States and the Russian Federation in December 2022.

Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

Updated 17 July 2024

Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned the Taliban's deputy head of mission on Wednesday and urged their administration to take action against Afghanistan-based militant groups that Islamabad says attacked a military base this week.
Militants attacked the base in Bannu in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing eight Pakistani security force members.

Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests

Updated 17 July 2024

Bangladesh shuts educational institutions after students killed in protests

  • Students say seven killed in overnight clashes with police, government supporters
  • They protest reservation of 30 percent of government jobs for families of 1971 war fighters

DHAKA: Bangladesh indefinitely closed all educational institutions on Wednesday following deadly clashes between students and police, as campus protests against job quotas spread across the country.

Students have been demonstrating at campuses since early July against the government’s quota system, in which 30 percent of public service jobs are reserved for the families of those who fought in Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war.

The students demand the system’s reform and more just distribution of the well-paid public service jobs.

The protests turned violent on Sunday, after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undermined the cause by suggesting that the demonstrators supported the “razakars,” or those who had collaborated with the Pakistani military — an enemy occupying force — during the 1971 war.

Students denounced the comparison and more of them joined the rallies, where they clashed with members of the youth wing of Hasina’s ruling Awami League party and security forces.

As violence escalated and turned deadly on Tuesday, the Ministry of Education and the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh announced in separate notifications that all secondary educational institutions, universities and medical colleges across the country would remain closed “until further notice” and “for the safety of the students.”

According to local media reports at least six people, including four students, were killed and 400 injured when the clashes broke out in Dhaka, Chottogram, Rajshahi and Rangpur.

Protesters estimate that the actual numbers are even higher.

“More than 1,000 of our protesters were injured during the clashes. Seven died, including one bystander. Just now, we held funeral prayers in absentia for our fellows who lost their lives,” said Mohammad Nahid Islam, coordinator of the Students Against Discrimination group, which is part of the protests in Dhaka.

“Today, police attacked protesting students at the Dhaka University campus with a stun grenade and tear gas shells. Many of our female students became sick and injured ... We are concerned about our security.”

Despite repeated attempts by Arab News, Bangladesh Police did not respond to requests for comment.

Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams

Updated 17 July 2024

Women lawyers top Philippines’ Shariah Bar exams

MANILA: Women have topped this year’s Shariah Bar examinations in the Philippines, with Supreme Court data showing that female examinees not only obtained the best score but also had the highest passing rate.

Shariah, or Islamic law, is partially implemented in the Philippines, applicable only to the Muslim community — about 10 percent of the 120 million of the country’s predominantly Catholic population.

A total of 853 candidates took part in the Shariah Bar exam in April and May, and 183 passed it. More than half of those who passed the exams were women, nine of whom were among the top 10 scorers.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Filomena Singh announced the results on Tuesday, saying that “62.3 percent of the total passers are female. I’m very happy to announce that.”

This year’s exam also saw the “largest number of Shariah Bar examinees we have had in nearly 40 years,” Singh said.

“This is to strengthen and make the Shariah justice system more accessible by encouraging and giving more opportunities to aspiring Shariah councilors.”

Separate from the regular Bar tests for aspiring lawyers, the Shariah Bar exams are the professional licensure examination covering Islamic law for Shariah court councilor candidates.

Established under the 1977 Code of Muslim Personal Laws, the Islamic law courts are under the administrative supervision of the Supreme Court and have jurisdiction over the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region as well as other parts of the southern Mindanao island, which have significant Muslim populations.

The courts have application over personal status law, including marriage, as well as financial laws and halal certification.

The Supreme Court said last year that in its goal to “strengthen the Shariah justice system” under the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027, it was studying the possibility of expanding the mandate of Islamic courts to cover also criminal and commercial cases.