LHOKSEUMAWE (Sumatra) • A group of Rohingyas said they were beaten by traffickers and drank their own urine to stay alive on a perilous four-month voyage at sea until their dramatic rescue near the Indonesian coast.
The scruffy survivors – a hundred in all, mostly women and children – described a horror story on the high seas that saw them having to throw their dead overboard as their rocky craft drifted thousands of miles toward Malaysia.
Two survivors claimed that the smugglers paid to transport them beat them and then moved them to a new boat before leaving them at sea.
They were rescued by fishermen in Indonesia last Wednesday and brought ashore by locals the next day, thousands of kilometers south of Bangladesh.
“We suffered so much on this boat,” said Rashid Ahmad, 50, at Agence France-Presse in an immigration detention center in the town of Lhokseumawe, on the north coast of Sumatra.
“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 to another boat and then left us to float alone,” he added.
Another survivor, Habibullah, said, “They beat everyone badly. My ear was cut off and I was hit on the head.”
AFP was unable to independently verify the accounts of four members of the vulnerable Muslim minority group, who said they left earlier this year near a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, next to their Native Myanmar.
Survivor Ziabur Rahman bin Safirullah, 35, said the group was making do with small rations of rice and nuts while relying heavily on rainwater to survive.
“Sometimes we crushed wet clothes and drank water from them,” he said, adding that those who died were thrown into the sea.
Ms. Korima Bibi said that at least two people died during the trip and that some on board used urine to stay alive, while others fell ill from the rough seas.
“We didn’t have enough food or water,” said the 20-year-old, “(but) we survived.”
Among the approximately 100 members of the group, there were 48 women and 35 children.
They had left the Balukhali refugee camp in southern Bangladesh, but came from Rakhine state, torn apart by the conflict in Myanmar, according to survivors and an account by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). .
A spokesperson for the group told IOM that a woman died on the way, leaving behind her two children. Three other children – two siblings and a 10-year-old girl – were not accompanied. The group also included a pregnant woman, according to the IOM.
The smugglers charged each person around US $ 2,300 (S $ 3,200) to transport them to Malaysia, IOM said.
About one million Rohingyas live in cramped and squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh, where human traffickers also conduct lucrative operations promising to find refuge abroad.
Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority nation in the world, and neighboring Malaysia are preferred destinations for Rohingya fleeing persecution and violence in most of the Buddhist countries of Myanmar.
Last week, a Malaysian coast guard official said dozens of Rohingyas were reported to have died during a multi-month trip to the country.
Indonesia has already allowed the Rohingya to land and many to stay. But suspicious officials have driven them back in recent months, fearing they may be carriers of the deadly coronavirus.
FRANCE MEDIA AGENCY