Abandoned, a cry for help
Up to 8,000 people were abandoned in their floating prisons after Thailand launched a crackdown on the people smuggling network that brings out migrants from impoverished Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Initially, it was a relief for the hundreds of migrants packed into a rickety fishing vessel when, in the dead of night, their captain and his crew took off in a speedboat and abandoned them in the sea between South and Southeast Asia.
For three weeks, they had been abused by the Thai men, who thrashed them with gun butts and scalded them with hot water.
Mohammad Husein, a Rohingya Muslim who had left Myanmar in mid-April brimming with hope for a better future, showed an ugly gash on his head. There was a swelling on one of Husein’s shins the size of a ping-pong ball, where one of the crew members had struck him with a metal bar when he asked to relieve himself.
But after their tormentors had gone, things only got worse.
The roughly 600 men, women and children from Myanmar and Bangladesh — part of a new wave of Asian ‘boat people’ — meandered for two days around the Bay of Bengal’s southeastern corner on a boat designed for just a third of their number, watching for the Malaysian coast to come into sight.
“We were sent out to sea in the middle of the night but we had no food or water and we didn’t know where were going or how to get to Malaysia. So we just kept going,” said Husein.
By last Sunday, they had run out of fuel and their wooden boat drifted into Indonesian waters on the western side of the Malacca Strait, where it was towed ashore by local fishermen.
The journeys of uncounted others who set out in recent weeks, eager to leave poverty and persecution behind them, have not ended so fortunately.
Up to 8,000 people were abandoned in their floating prisons after Thailand launched a crackdown on the people smuggling network that brings out migrants from impoverished Bangladesh and Myanmar and sends them across the border to Malaysia.
Over the past week, nearly 2,500 have drifted onto the shores of Malaysia and Indonesia.
There is mounting concern, however, that boats still out at sea will be pushed back by the region’s navies, much as Vietnamese boatpeople were repulsed at the end of the 1970s as Southeast Asian nations feared a flood of refugees. Unlike the European Union, whose members are working together to deal with a tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, there have been few signs that Southeast Asian nations are cooperating to find solutions.
Weak and dying
“Please, you must help us,” Muhammad Solim said by mobile phone from a boat he said had been bobbing off the coast of southern Thailand for more than a week, with 350 Rohingya migrants on board. Food had run out and they had little water left.
“People are weak and starting to die. Our engine is broken,” Solim said.
Contacted two days later, Solim said that desperation had swept through the passengers, and about 10 of them had jumped into the sea to try and swim to fishing boats in the distance. He did not say if they had made it or perished. He could not be reached again after Wednesday evening.
A Thai navy towed a boat that was found near Koh Lipe back out to sea Friday after repairing the engine and supplying those on board with food, medicine, fuel and water. It was not clear if this was the same vessel from which Solim had been speaking.
Rohingya Muslims are deemed second-class citizens in Myanmar. Tens of thousands have fled discrimination and abuse and they are usually joined by people from Bangladesh looking for work.
One day late last month, Umma Khair, a 20-year-old mother of three children who went missing in ethnic violence three years ago, left Myanmar’s Rohingya-dominated state of Rakhine and sailed with a handful of others for six hours through canals and creeks to open sea.
They were then transferred to a larger boat and waited for two days while other small groups arrived and came aboard. Many of the migrants were beaten by crew members while they waited and, when they were jammed so tightly together that there was no more room, the vessel set off for Thailand.
“We crouched most of the time, and to sleep we leaned against each other,” said Khair, recounting the journey that ended on the shores of Indonesia’s this week.
“If we had to go the toilet we did so in a hole that was lined with polythene and led straight into the sea.”
One fellow passenger, a woman who gave her name as Nurasafa, said that after they had been abandoned and were drifting under the blazing sun, all she could think to do was pray. “Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah, that’s what I was saying,” she said.
Outcasts in Myanmar, shunned by the rest
Who are the Rohingya, what do they want?
State-less: Rohingya are a Muslim minority in predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar, also known as Burma. They are concentrated in western Rakhine state, which is adjacent to Bangladesh, but are not recognised by the Myanmar government as an official ethnic group and are denied citizenship. Since Burma’s independence in 1948, the Rohingya have gradually been excluded and became persecuted.
Fighting for equality: Rohingya want equal rights in Myanmar. Myanmar’s government says they are not eligible for citizenship under the country’s military-drafted 1982 law, which defines full citizens as members of ethnic groups that had permanently settled in modern-day Myanmar prior to 1823.
Deprived at home: In Myanmar, the Rohingya have limited access to education and medical care, cannot move around or practice their religion freely. So they try to flee abroad, most hoping to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia in search of jobs and security. To do that, they crowd small wooden boats nearly every day — an average of 900 people per day.
Stranded at sea: Thousands of Rohingya as well as Bangladeshis are now believed to be abandoned at sea close to the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. About 2,000 have landed on shore, but the three govts have turned away others. An estimated 6,000 are stranded at sea.
Terror threat severe
Last year, Britain raised its terrorism threat alert to the second-highest level of ‘severe’, meaning an attack was considered highly likely. The same year, terror-related arrests hit record high levels with an arrest almost every day. A break-up of the numbers:
33%–rise — from 254 in 2013-14
11%–suspects are women
17% –are under 20
700–Britons have travelled to Syria
(Over four times the number of people that joined the Army Reserve in 2013)
Not just UK’s problem
25,000 foreign fighters fighting for al-Qaeda, IS 71% increase between mid-2014 and March 2015
22,000 are said to be in Syria and Iraq alone 6,500 are in Afghanistan
The rest are spread over Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia
Source: Scotland Yard; UN
Source:: Indian Express