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.
“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.”
He’s one of the lucky ones: he’s off the boat.
Between 6,000 and 8,000 more are believed to still be stuck off the coasts of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, with limited water and food, in a situation the UN has warned could fast become a “massive humanitarian crisis” because no government in the region is willing to take them in.
Out back in the hospital wing in Langsa, a row of men lie on stretchers with their emaciated limbs hooked up to intravenous drips. The back of one shirtless man is marked with deep red lashes.
“They hit us, with hammers, by knife, cutting,” says Rafique, recalling onboard violence between the different groups of migrants.
Starvation and injury.
Concrete details about the migrants’ time at sea are hard to come by at this stage. But most in Langsa tell of being transported in small boats from Burma and Bangladesh before being herded onto a larger vessel docked off Ranong in Southern Thailand.
Some waited on for up to two months there, others just a week, for the boat, crewed by Thai and Burmese nationals, to fill up before they could leave. Most paid between 5,000 and 8,000 Malaysian Ringgit to agents of people smugglers for the journey.
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.”
Read the whole thing and see the photos of emaciated men lying on blue tarps.