When hundreds of Rohingya refugees paid traffickers to escape their squalid camp in Bangladesh, they were promised a new life in Malaysia after just one week at sea.
Instead, the group of mostly women and children suffered more than 200 days of terror on the high seas, until they landed this week on Indonesia’s northern coast, where they are back in refugee tents.
Beaten by the traffickers, they battled hunger and thirst as storms lashed their wooden vessel, and watched in horror as the corpses of scores who died were tossed overboard, survivors said.
“We were told that we’d reach Malaysia in seven or eight days, but we floated in the water for months,” one male survivor said from a tent camp on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island. “We suffered miserably. [The crew] tortured us all the time, beating and cutting us.”
Kamrun Nahar, another survivor, said that she lost count of how many bodies were thrown into the sea, adding that “mothers and their children died” after succumbing to illness.
The new accounts — and those of nearly 100 Rohingya who landed in Indonesia in June — suggest that about 800 migrants left Bangladesh on a large boat sometime in March before being split onto smaller vessels.
Many paid up to US$2,400 to get aboard, but smugglers held them hostage for months to extort more money from their friends and relatives, survivors and aid agencies said.
“Traffickers were said to be demanding transfers of as much as 5,000 ringgit [US$1,204],” the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in a report.
Despite their ordeal, the group looked relatively healthy, suggesting that traffickers had an interest in keeping them alive.
Experts have said that some smuggling boats are fitted with desalinization machines to produce potable water during the hazardous crossings, but the latest arrivals said that they were fed little more than a handful of rice and a glass of water each day.
“The smugglers employed a kind of shuttle system, with smaller fishing boats going back and forth with food and water,” the IPAC report said.
In another twist, IPAC said that many women on board were hoping to reach romantic partners in Malaysia.
“Most are already married either virtually or otherwise to men in Malaysia who financed their travel,” it said.
Moving refugees from a larger ship onto smaller craft for transfer to shore is a common tactic by traffickers, but it is a perilous operation and an estimated 200 Rohingya have died at sea this year, said Ann Maymann, representative to Indonesia for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“It’s a horrific journey. It’s very unpredictable,” Maymann said. “Those who disembarked are probably those whose families have paid.”
The latest survivor accounts — including claims that there could have been as many as 100 dead — could not be independently verified, but they match reports given to international organizations, including the UNHCR.
Two of this week’s arrivals — a young woman and a man — have died of unspecified illnesses, although everyone had been confirmed negative for COVID-19 after testing by local authorities.
This week’s arrival was one of the biggest such landings by the persecuted Myanmar minority in years.
About 1 million Muslim Rohingya live in refugee camps in Bangladesh, where human traffickers run lucrative operations, promising to find them sanctuary abroad.
Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia are the preferred destinations of Rohingya refugees trying to escape conditions in Bangladesh.
Human rights groups have urged the Indonesian government to negotiate a long-term plan for Rohingya migrants with neighboring countries.
“We suffered a lot in Myanmar and couldn’t find any peace,” said Mahmud Syakir, who fled the refugee camp in the hope of reuniting with his sister in Malaysia.
“I’m a poor guy, an orphan,” he added. “I’ve only got a sister in Malaysia, but I can’t go to her now.”
An Australian university student who has never visited China and has only a modest social media following would seem an unlikely target for the Chinese government. However, when a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman personally denounced Drew Pavlou at a news conference, it was just the next phase in an extraordinary campaign against the 21-year-old that has fueled concerns over China’s targeting of critics overseas. Pavlou first placed himself in the superpower’s sights when in July last year he organized a small sit-in at the University of Queensland, where he studies, to protest against various Chinese government policies. Since then, the Global
‘ASKED TO MOVE OUT’: Indonesian coast guard personnel argued with a Chinese vessel over territorial claims after it entered the country’s exclusive economic zone An Indonesian patrol ship confronted a Chinese coast guard vessel that spent almost three days in waters where Indonesia claims economic rights and that are near the southernmost part of China’s disputed claims to the South China Sea. The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency on Friday night detected Chinese ship 5204 entering Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in what Indonesia calls the North Natuna Sea. The agency sent a patrol ship that closed within 1km of the Chinese coast guard vessel and they communicated to affirm their position and their nation’s claims to the area, Indonesian Maritime Security Agency head Aan Kurnia said. “We
BEFORE WINTER COMES: Snow cuts off roads into Ladakh for four months or more each year, so the crunch is on to get food, tents and high-altitude equipment to Leh From deploying mules to large transport aircraft, the Indian military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops for a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China. In the past few months, one of India’s biggest military logistics exercises in years has brought vast quantities of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food into Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet that India administers as a union territory, officials said. The move was triggered by a border standoff with China in the snow deserts of Ladakh that began in May and escalated in June into hand-to-hand
Dark matter, mysterious invisible stuff that makes up most of the mass of galaxies, including the Milky Way, is confounding scientists again, with new observations of distant galaxies conflicting with the current understanding of its nature. Research published this week revealed an unexpected discrepancy between observations of dark matter concentrations in three massive clusters of galaxies encompassing trillions of stars and theoretical computer simulations of how dark matter should be distributed. “Either there is a missing ingredient in the simulations or we have made a fundamental incorrect assumption about the nature of dark matter,” Yale University astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, a coauthor of