May 17, 2015 | ABC News
Migrants and refugees who spent months at sea and found help in Indonesia’s Aceh province claim up to 200 people died on the journey with 14 people, including seven children, dying before the boat was turned around by both the Indonesian and Malaysian navies.
The 677 survivors were rescued by Indonesian fishermen and brought ashore last Thursday.
It has since emerged that Rohingyas and ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh were involved in onboard violence that left seven people dead, as food and water supplies ran out.
The migrants claimed many passengers died by drowning either when they fell overboard or when the boat began to take on water.
It is impossible to verify the accuracy of some of the claims due to the language barriers.
There are differing accounts of the onboard violence with accusations being made by ethnic groups who admit to the clashes but blame each other for starting them.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
A 21-year-old Rohingya man, Muhammad Rafique, who already has UN Refugee Status, said the Bengalis were the aggressors.
“Bengali … they said, you are Rohingya, they kill us, they kill us by the knife, by the hammer,” he said.
But Bengali Mohammad Abdur Rahim, 23, said it was the Rohingyas who started it.
“Myanmar people do not give us any food, any water, they are torturing [us] every day,” he said.
Boat turned away from Indonesian, Malaysian waters
The clashes seem to have occurred after the asylum seekers left the waters off Thailand and were then abandoned by the people smugglers and the ship’s captain.
According to the passengers:
- Three to four boats left Bangladesh and Myanmar up to two months ago
- Off the coast of Thailand, smugglers transferred them all to a larger boat
- At least some of the smugglers, and the captain, abandoned ship
- The passengers, without training or guidance, attempted to reach Malaysia
- As food and water ran out, violent clashes broke out, leaving seven dead
- Another seven children reportedly died during the voyage
- Last week they reached Indonesian waters
- The Indonesian Navy gave them some supplies but turned them towards Malaysia
- The Malaysian Navy also gave them supplies and turned them away
- Some claim 100-200 people drowned in the entire ordeal, but this can not be verified
- Indonesian fishermen rescued 677 people from the boat on Thursday
From what those on board who can speak English say, three to four boats left from Bangladesh and Myanmar weeks ago.
Off the Thai coast, the smugglers then transferred them all to one bigger boat, and later abandoned them.
Last week they reached Indonesian waters but were rejected by the Indonesian navy.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, conceded the navy had contact with a boat on Tuesday but said the people wanted to get to Malaysia so Indonesia gave them fuel, food and water.
Indonesia’s military spokesman Fuad Basya told the ABC the navy escorted them out of Indonesian waters.
Mr Abdur Rahim said the Indonesian navy took them to Malaysian waters.
Major General Basya told the ABC: “It’s the military’s responsibility to protect the country’s territory”.
He added the navy would keep turning asylum seeker boats away unless directed otherwise.
Once the boat reached Malaysian waters, the passengers met a similar response.
The navy again provided supplies but refused entry to Malaysian waters.
The boat, adrift at sea with no port of destination, began taking on water.
It was Acehnese fishermen who rescued the 677 Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshis and brought them to Langsa.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported regional countries taking action to stop people smuggling boats by turning them around and stood by the Australian Government doing the same.
“I don’t apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary and if other countries choose to do that, frankly, that is almost certainly absolutely necessary.”
‘They were on the sea for four months, no food, no bedding’
Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished. A number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips.
Dr Iqbal Foriza, who is co-ordinating medical provision at the makeshift refugee camp, said 25 people were admitted to hospital with their bodies having gone into shock from the ordeal.
“The worst is heavy shock. They were on the sea for four months, no food, no clean food, no bedding, that made the people dehydrated, and caused trauma,” Dr Iqbal said.
On a military camp bed last night, a Bangladeshi woman fanned her three-year-old daughter to keep away mosquitoes, which can be deadly in Indonesia.
The tiny girl was still hooked up to a drip, but Dr Foriza said she was being monitored every three hours.
The ordeal had some people rethinking their plans to get to Malaysia.
“We [want to] go back to Bangladesh immediately. Please help,” Mr Abdur Rahim said.
Muhammad Rafique, a Rohingya, still wanted to get to Australia via Malaysia, with the help of people smugglers.
“First time I will go Malaysia, I will [collect] some money, pay the broker. After I go to Australia to study,” he said.
When the ABC asked him if he knew Australia did not accept people who came by boat he did not understand.
Australia urged to help ease crisis by taking more refugees
Australia’s former ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia John McCarthy said Australia could not just be a witness to the crisis and needed to significantly increase its refugee intake.
“It is a major gesture,” he said.
“We are a country that can afford to take refugees and it has to be bipartisan. If this is not bipartisan we’re not going to get it up.
“The only prospect I can see of Australia playing a constructive role is by saying that we will actually increase our intake of refugees above the 12,000-odd we take currently to a much larger number.”
Malaysia said its foreign minister would meet with his Indonesian and Thai counterparts to discuss the crisis.
Foreign minister Anifah Aman was to meet Indonesia’s Retno Marsudi in the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu on Monday, a government official said.
That would be followed by separate talks between Mr Anifah and Thai foreign minister Tanasak Patimapragorn later in the week, “most probably on Wednesday”.