Rohingya refugees fish in troubled waters to earn living in Bangladesh

SHAMLAPUR, Bangladesh, June 12 (Reuters) - Some Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar are finding work in the fishing industry in neighboring Bangladesh, earning a tiny daily income and occasional share of the catch, all under the official radar.

The Shamlapur refugee camp, near a fishing colony on one of the world's longest beaches, is home to about 10,000 Rohingya refugees, aid groups say, many driven out of Myanmar's Rakhine State by sectarian violence last year.

"We saved our lives by escaping here, so we are happy to be here," said Mohammed Yosuf, 20, who works as a fisherman, earning about $1.20 to $3.60 for each five-day trip.

Yosuf said he fled with his wife, Sobora Khatun, who was nine months' pregnant when they escaped after two months shackled in captivity. Their three-year-old son drowned in a river crossing, but baby daughter Rukia was born safely.

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Rohingya refugees fish in troubled waters
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Rohingya refugees fish in troubled waters
Rohingya refugees crew a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Rohingya refugees crew a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees crew a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees push a fishing boat from the sea at Shamlapur beach in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
Waves hit a fishing boat crewed by Rohingya refugees in the Bay of Bengal near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees crew a fishing boat from Shamlapur beach heading out to the Bay of Bengal near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 21, 2018. The boat is unstable in rough seas due to its shape when it hits the waves. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees crew a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Rohingya refugee walks past a fishing colony on Shamlapur beach in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees crew a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Rohingya refugee woman slices fish for drying whilst working at Nazirartek fish drying yard near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 25, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee Asma Akter, 10, lifts bags of frozen fish from a delivery truck at Nazirartek fish drying yard in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Bangladeshi men wheel a manta ray past Nazirartek fish drying yard in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Hasina Begum, 30, a Rohingya refugee, poses for a photograph at Nazirartek fish drying yard in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 23, 2018. "I was wounded by a sword to my face," said Begum, describing how she fled her home. "Then I lost consciousness and I was lying on the ground and some of my neighbours took me to the boat and we crossed the river to the Bangladesh border." Eventually she moved out of a refugee camp to take up the fish-drying work. "Yes, it's a better life, as I can work here with drying fish and I can earn money," she added. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees push fishing nets along the beach on Shamlapur beach in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A bird pecks at dried fish at Nazirartek fish drying yard in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Rohingya refugee boy scours a fishing net for leftovers on Shamlapur beach in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Chakma woman sits on Shamlapur beach with buckets of tamarind to exchange for fish, in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees smoke cigarettes while shaking out freshly caught fish from nets on Shamlapur beach in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees play football at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A Rohingya refugee child is handed food rations at Jamtoli refugee camp near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A malnourished Rohingya refugee child cries at a children's malnourishment centre in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees gesture to Bangladeshi fish sellers at the dawn fish market in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees pass baskets of dried out mud from the riverbed to raise the ground level of the camp in preparation for monsoon season, in Shamlapur refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Rohingya refugee woman holds her identity and work cards after moving mud from the riverbed to help raise the ground level of the camp, in preparation for monsoon season, in Shamlapur refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, March 25, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A Rohingya refugee woman walks through Nazirartek fish drying yard where she works, in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 23, 2018. The woman, who does not want to be identified, escaped from Kutupalong refugee camp. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees leave Shamlapur beach with fish at night to return to Shamlapur camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.
A Rohingya refugee boy holds styrofoam fashioned into the shape of a gun at Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Mohammed Yosuf, 20, and his wife Sobora Khatun, 25, pose for a photograph with their baby Rukia in Shamlapur refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 22, 2018. Mohammed Yosuf: "I go to the beach for fishing otherwise I don't do anything... There is only fishing here. If we catch lots of fish and the owner (of the boat) sells them at the market, the owner takes half of the money and the other half is distributed to the Rohingya fishermen," Yosuf said and added: "Sometimes I don't get paid and sometimes it's 200 or 300 Taka or I get paid with fish. The owner of the boat is Bangladeshi." Sobora Khatun: "We were combined by shackles for two months without having any food or water. They also did not let us drink water from the fountain. By the grace of almighty we got rain from the sky and we drank the rainwater, nothing else for two months. When they started burning the whole village we got a chance to flee. Lots of children were burned in this attack. We escaped to Bangladesh," Khatun said. "After shackling us, our homes and village were totally burned by the Myanmar people and Myanmar army. I was nine months pregnant when I escaped from Myanmar and I gave birth in Bangladesh to Rukia. My three-year-old son was killed in the crossing. He was drowned in the river." REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Rohingya refugee woman shows bullet and shrapnel wounds on her arm at Shamlapur refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 26, 2018. The wounds are from when she was hit by the Myanmar army as she tried to escape in September 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugee women carry baskets of dried out mud from the riverbed to help raise the ground level of the camp in preparation for monsoon season, in Shamlapur refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An elderly Rohingya refugee woman named Rowshon Zol, 85, is taken by hammock to a medical centre in Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Rohingya refugee works in the water at dawn beside fishing boats in Shamlapur Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 31, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Rohingya refugees shake out fish from nets after the days catch on Shamlapur beach in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A Rohingya refugee is seen in Balukhali refugee camp at dawn near Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Night lights shine on fishing boats on the shore near Shamlapur Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man buys a bag of freshly caught fish at Shamlapur market in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh, March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne SEARCH "KILCOYNE FISHING" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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They are among nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a military crackdown, the United Nations and human rights groups say, almost all of them winding up in makeshift camps around the southern district of Cox's Bazar.

Although the refugees cannot work legally, some find jobs on fishing boats or help push them out to sea. The vessels are similar to the craft that carried thousands of Rohingya across the waters to Bangladesh.

Others in the camp earn money by shattering ice blocks to preserve the catch in the searing heat, mending nets or repairing boats.

Two in five Rohingyas depend on a family member with an informal job in Shamlapur, while one in 20 rely on financial assistance from a family member abroad, a survey by migration research group the Exchange Foundation shows.

"Rohingyas in Shamlapur are mostly living in makeshift accommodation and are only occasionally engaged in (illegal and seasonal) gainful employment," the group said in March.

"A SWORD TO MY FACE"

Some Rohingya women have found work drying fish at a yard in nearby Nazirartek, for a daily take home of 100 taka to 200 taka ($1.20 to $2.40).

"I was wounded by a sword to my face," said Hasina Begum, 30, describing how she fled her home.

"Then I lost consciousness and I was lying on the ground and some of my neighbors took me to the boat and we crossed the river to the Bangladesh border," said Hasina, who battles pain and memory difficulties after losing the sight of one eye.

She escaped from Kutupalong refugee camp to seek fish-drying work.

"Yes, it's a better life, as I can work here with drying fish and I can earn money," she added.

Spread over 200 acres, the fish-drying yards handle around 100 tonnes of fish every day of the peak drying season from September to May.

Here, under a blistering noon sun, a Rohingya woman toils over a long wooden table, sorting pungent clusters of fish while constantly swatting away flies and mosquitoes. Others tie up fish that had been draped over bamboo poles to dry.

The fish-drying industry generates annual revenue of about $20 million, traders and government officials say.

Even the children work hard.

From dawn, they push boats into the water or join fishing trips to earn a small bag of fish they can swap for tamarind from canny beachside vendors who get the better of the deal, as the fish is prized above the sour flavoring the children enjoy.

Hakim Ali, 45, works on a salt pan on the edge of the Teknaf river dividing the two countries, carrying bags of salt for 10 taka (12 cents) each to gather between 300 and 500 taka ($3.60 and $6) every day.

Ali said he left his home near the town of Buthidaung in Myanmar eight months ago, after rampaging mobs killed one of his brothers, threw another in jail and razed his home and paddy fields.

"We want justice and freedom of movement in Myanmar," Ali told Reuters, when asked what it would take for him to return.

"If the Myanmar government fulfills the demand, that day I will go." ($1=82.8800 taka)

(Reporting by Clodagh Kilcoyne Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in DHAKA Writing by Clarence Fernandez Editing by Darren Schuettler)

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