• Monday, Jul 06, 2020
  • Last Update : 11:02 pm

Death and despair: Rescued Rohingyas describe high-seas terror

  • Published at 11:20 am June 28th, 2020
Locals evacuate Rohingya refugees from a boat at a coast of North Aceh, Indonesia, June 25, 2020 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.  Antara Foto/Rahmad/ via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT.
Locals evacuate Rohingya refugees from a boat at a coast of North Aceh, Indonesia, June 25, 2020 in this photo taken by Antara Foto Reuters

About 1,400 Rohingyas have been stranded at sea this year -- and at least 130 of those have died, according to IOM

A group of Rohingyas says they were beaten by traffickers and drank their own urine to stay alive on a perilous four-month journey at sea until their dramatic rescue near the Indonesian coast.

The bedraggled survivors -- about 100 in all, mostly women and children --described a high-seas horror story that saw them reduced to throwing the dead overboard as their rickety craft drifted thousands of kilometres towards Malaysia.

Two survivors claimed that people smugglers paid to transport them had beaten the Rohingyas who were later moved to a new boat and abandoned at sea. 

They were rescued by fishermen in Indonesia on Wednesday and pulled to shore by locals the next day, thousands of kilometres south of Bangladesh.

Rohingya woman from Myanmar queue up as they go through identification procedures by Indonesian police at the immigration detention centre in Lhokseumawe in Indonesia's North Aceh Regency on June 26, 2020 | AFP

"We suffered so much on that boat," 50-year-old Rashid Ahmad told AFP at an immigration detention centre in Lhokseumawe city on Sumatra's northern coast.

"They tortured us and cut us. One of us even died.

"There was food at first but when it was done they (the traffickers) took us onto another boat and then let us float away alone," he added.

Another survivor, Habibullah, said: "They beat everyone badly. My ear was cut and I was beaten on the head."

AFP could not independently verify the accounts of four members of the vulnerable Muslim minority group, who said they set off earlier this year near a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, next to their native Myanmar.

Starving, thirsty 

Survivor Ziabur Rahman Bin Safirullah, 35, said the group got by on small rations of rice and nuts while relying heavily on rainwater to survive.

"Sometimes we squashed wet clothes and drank the water from them," he said, adding that those who died were thrown into the sea. 

Korima Bibi said at least two people died during the voyage and that some on board resorted to drinking urine to stay alive, as others got sick from the rough seas.

"We didn't get enough food or water," the 20-year-old said, "(but) we survived."

Among the roughly 100 in the group were 48 women and 35 children. 

They set off from the Balukhali refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, but were originally from Myanmar's conflict-torn Rakhine State, according to survivors and an account given to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

A spokesperson for the group told the IOM that one woman had died on the way, leaving behind her two children. 

Another three children, two of them siblings, and a 10-year-old girl were unaccompanied. The group also included a pregnant woman, according to the IOM.

Rohingya men rest at an immigration detention house in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province on June 27, 2020 | AFPThe smugglers were charging each person about $2,300 to get them to Malaysia, the IOM said.

Around a million Rohingyas live in cramped and squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh, where human traffickers also run lucrative operations promising to find them sanctuary abroad. 

Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim majority nation, and neighbouring Malaysia are favoured destinations for Rohingyas fleeing persecution and violence in mostly Buddhist Myanmar.

Thousands try a perilous escape via smugglers across the sea each year.

About 1,400 Rohingyas have been stranded at sea this year -- and at least 130 of those have died, according to IOM figures.

'A thousand thanks' 

Last week, a Malaysian coastguard official said dozens of Rohingyas were believed to have died during a months-long journey to that country.

There had originally been more than 300 people on board the boat that was intercepted by authorities this month, with the 269 survivors given temporary shelter.

Neighbouring Indonesia has previously allowed Rohingyas to land and many to stay.

But wary officials have turned them away in recent months, worried they could be carrying the deadly coronavirus.

That concern played out in dramatic fashion on a beach in Lhokseumawe on Thursday when the Rohingya survivors were pulled to shore by locals furious at the refusal of authorities to give them shelter over Covid-19 fears.

They had spent the night several hundred metres offshore, waiting for a decision on whether they could land.

Authorities eventually relented -- a move cheered as a victory by rights groups. All have since tested negative for the coronavirus, local officials said.

In this photo taken on June 26, 2020, Rohingya people from Myanmar look outside a fence at the immigration detention centre in Lhokseumawe, in Indonesia's North Aceh Regency | AFP

But the group's fate remains uncertain.

"Äs a fellow Muslim I felt compassion for them, especially because there were so many children and women -- it broke my heart," said Lhokseumawe resident Saiful Hardi. 

"I hope we continue to help them as fellow human beings."

That decision will be up the government, meaning an uncertain fate for survivors like 20-year-old Bibi.

"You people saved us so a thousand thanks for that," she said. 

"Now it's up to you." 

50
50
blogger sharing button blogger
buffer sharing button buffer
diaspora sharing button diaspora
digg sharing button digg
douban sharing button douban
email sharing button email
evernote sharing button evernote
flipboard sharing button flipboard
pocket sharing button getpocket
github sharing button github
gmail sharing button gmail
googlebookmarks sharing button googlebookmarks
hackernews sharing button hackernews
instapaper sharing button instapaper
line sharing button line
linkedin sharing button linkedin
livejournal sharing button livejournal
mailru sharing button mailru
medium sharing button medium
meneame sharing button meneame
messenger sharing button messenger
odnoklassniki sharing button odnoklassniki
pinterest sharing button pinterest
print sharing button print
qzone sharing button qzone
reddit sharing button reddit
refind sharing button refind
renren sharing button renren
skype sharing button skype
snapchat sharing button snapchat
surfingbird sharing button surfingbird
telegram sharing button telegram
tumblr sharing button tumblr
twitter sharing button twitter
vk sharing button vk
wechat sharing button wechat
weibo sharing button weibo
whatsapp sharing button whatsapp
wordpress sharing button wordpress
xing sharing button xing
yahoomail sharing button yahoomail