With nowhere else to go, Rohingya refugees turn to the sea

By Azad Majumder

Dhaka, Aug 4 (efe-epa)-. Nur Ahmed, a Rohingya refugee, paid 40,000 taka ($470) to a trafficker to get on a boat in search of a better life in Malaysia, a trip that turned into a nightmare, like that of many other refugees who would rather risk dying at sea than live in Bangladeshi camps.

Nur was one of 492 people that set sail on a Malaysian fishing boat in February, with the help of a Rohingya broker in the Kutupalang camps.

The journey was supposed to take six days so no one was allowed to bring food. “If someone brought food the ship-men would seize it from them,” said the 23-year-old Nur.

But nothing went as planned.

After touching the Indian coast on the first day, the boat was intercepted by the Myanmar navy in their waters. “They had to pay 100 lakh (10 million) Kyats ($7,340) to the Myanmar Navy” for them to ignore a boat carrying undocumented immigrants, recalled Nur.

“Then, they (the Myanmar officials) said, ‘you can go to Malaysia now. If we find you again near the Myanmar area we will arrest you all’,” Nur said.

After six days and six nights, the boat approached the Malaysian shores but the authorities turned them back. They made a second attempt on the 10th day only to face the same outcome.

Already without adequate supplies, they spent 48 days at sea and were left with no other plan than to return to Bangladesh. Moreover the journey had started taking a toll on the passengers.

The first passenger died on the 12th day – he was so weak that he could not consume any food, according to Nur. Around 70 passengers starved to death one after the other, nine of them personally known to Nur.

“We didn’t think that we will get food again. We urged the ship-men to land in any other country (but in vain),” he recalled.

Nur was among the 396 Rohingyas found by the Bangladesh Coast Guard on Apr.15 aboard a fishing boat off the coast of Baharchara in Cox’s Bazar district.

A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) revealed that each of them eventually returned to their families in the refugee camps.

Hashim Ali, another Rohingya refugee, has a similar story to share. On Feb. 28, he set off on a small boat from Maheshkhali area of Cox’s Bazar, before shifting to a larger fishing boat carrying some 500 people bound for Malaysia.

“We reached Malaysia’s Langkawi on Mar. 12 but we were turned back. We waited for four days and then came back to Thailand. A big boat brought a few sacks of rice for us before we started for Malaysia again,” Ali narrated to EFE.

The boat unsuccessfully tried to enter Malaysia many more times, before finally deciding to return to Bangladesh.

“They used to divide food for one person between four people. Often there were quarrels over drinking water. Soon people started dying out of hunger. I saw a list of the boatmen. A total of 29 people died in our boat,” he said.

According to Ali, some people jumped off the boat into the sea to escape but were often hauled back and tortured by the human traffickers. The boat arrived at the coast of Shamlapur in Bangladesh around the middle of April but Ali was unable to remember the exact date.

The Rohingya refugee, aged about 20, said he undertook the journey despite knowing the danger associated with it in order to save his family from the hardship they face.

“We are 11 siblings, some got married and now we are six living with our mother in the camp as our father died. I thought if I could reach Malaysia somehow all of us would get a better life,” he said.

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