Crowded under tarpaulin tents strewn with rubbish and boxes of water, the Burmese and Bangladeshi migrants speak of horrors at sea: of murders, of killing each other over scarce supplies of food and water, of corpses thrown overboard.More from The Jakarta Times and the New York Times.
“One family was beaten to death with wooden planks from the boat, a father, a mother and their son,” says Mohammad Amin, 35. “And then they threw the bodies into the ocean.”* * *
“They hit us, with hammers, by knife, cutting,” says Rafique, recalling onboard violence between the different groups of migrants. He presents his only possession – a Rohingya identity card from the United Nations high commission for refugees in Bangladesh.* * *
Many of those on the ships are from northern Burma’s persecuted Rohingya minority, who are denied citizenship and voting rights, even though many have lived in the country for generations.
In the majority Buddhist nation, the Rohingya have continued to flee sectarian violence and poor conditions in refugee camps.
In Langsa, Amin, a former farmer in Burma, tells of how his village was set alight in a violent attack several years ago. His mother, he says, was burned to death because she was too old to escape.* * *
For 25 days they were at sea, surviving on minimal supplies given to them from the Indonesian and Malaysian navies after the captain and crew deserted them. Amin says they slept crouched and huddled next to each other on the ship and tried to save supplies for the women and children on board.
But the migrants were desperate, thirsty and starving, and fighting broke out on board.
“When the captain and the crew escaped, deserted us, I was sobbing,” explains Amin, “One man from Bangladesh said ‘the captain has run away, we must pray to Allah’ but there was not enough room for us to kneel and pray.”
Basic lesson: don't become a refugee if you can avoid it.