As conditions at home worsen, thousands of refugees fall into the demonic hands of human traffickers who will stop at nothing for money
Refugees fleeing Burma and Bangladesh have suffered horrific abuses from human traffickers whilst on board boats crossing the Andaman Sea to Indonesia.
Testimonies to Amnesty International tell of severe systematic beatings of men, women and children, thousands of whom have died.
These reports have been published ahead of the region’s ‘sailing season’ when the monsoons calm and conditions become more favourable for travel. Thousands more could now be at risk.
It is believed that these events took place after families have failed to pay ransoms; furthermore, as a result of Thailand’s crackdown of trafficking in May 2015, thousands of refugees were abandoned at sea without food, water and medical care by the traffickers.
Eyewitnesses claim dozens of large boats were making this journey, but only five landed in Indonesia or Malaysia. Thousands remain unaccounted; they have either died or been sold into forced labour.
Amnesty International’s Refugee Researcher Anna Shea said:
‘The daily physical abuse faced by Rohingyas is almost too horrific to put into words. They escaped Burma but had only traded one nightmare for another.
The shocking truth is that those we spoke to are the “lucky” ones who made it to shore’.
Kept in hellish conditions, a particularly chilling testimony describes how a 15-year-old girl’s father in Bangladesh was called by a crew member, only to listen to her screams and cries as she was beaten while the men demanded the £1,000 ransom.
Beatings were systematic and routine, hit with plastic or metal batons, they could last for hours and were triggered by the victims begging for food, or asking to use the toilet.
Many have been left with long-term physical or psychological scars.
‘In the morning you were hit three times. In the afternoon you were hit three times. At night you were hit nine times’, said a 15-year-old boy.
Boats were severely overcrowded; the refugees were kept in degrading, inhuman conditions. Off the coast of Aceh, Indonesia, the stench from one of these vessels was so bad, that rescuers could not board.
Many of those who reached the shores of Indonesia struggled to walk after being cramped for so long. They also suffered from dehydration, malnourishment, bronchitis and flu.
The Rohingyas have faced persecution and discrimination for decades in Burma, being denied Burmese citizenship under the nationality law.
Denied free movement and unable to travel without official permission, they also have no access to higher education. Furthermore, since the (now dissolved) military dictatorship took over in the 1960s, much of their arable land has been confiscated by the military and given to Buddhist settlers.
As violence keeps erupting, most recently in 2012, tens of thousands have been forced into camps to escape, but conditions there are desperate.
Some have been abducted by traffickers, but many had paid in return for a promise of safe passage to Malaysia or Indonesia. This method is used by many traffickers to trick people into forced labour.
In May, many boats were turned back by Indonesian and Malayan authorities which in part led to the humanitarian crisis faced by the refugees.
Although international pressure helped lead to these nations accepting a number of refugees, it was with the stipulation that another nation would take them by May 2016.
No long-term solution seems likely at the present. And with the new sailing season about to start it is feared that this crisis could get much worse.