On May 20, 2015, a boat appeared far-out in the sea on the Indonesian coast, Aceh. It bobbed up and down on the waves, spewing wisps of smoke.
People, waiting for the day’s catch, strained their eyes to see fish--- but the boat was full of people!
As it came closer, a picture began to emerge, unlike anything the world has seen since the World War II. A cargo of humans--- about 400 people crammed in it in wagon -tragedy- fashion. Hunger and weariness drew their ribs close to their skins, their faces bony, eyes hollowed. Caught in hunger-induced stupor, they were unable to speak.
Before their landfall that day, these humans spent more than three months in the sea. Their journey started several thousand miles away from Western Burma’s Rakhine or Arakan state. Human traffickers took them offering better lives in Malaysia. The roadmap to the new heaven began with Andaman Sea, then trekking through the forest of Thailand into Malaysia---things said well, but never done.
Soon there would start a new game in the sea, a game of passing the buck or musical cap with human life, or ping pong with human life. Malaysia readied itself well ahead to kick out these refugees. This boat was the latest of many trying to land there. The refugees----mostly, Rohingyas from Burma, who were fleeing religious persecution back home, and Bengladeshis, escaping poverty---would constitute 50 million displaced people in the world today.
Malaysian authorities refused to shelter them and instead pushed them towards Thailand. As their beat-up beat reached Thai coast, authorities repaired its engine, and gave some food and water before pushing it back into international waters. The boatful of half-dead human were moving up and down the open sea. It became journey with no shore in sight. Soon its ‘captain and other gun-wielding traffickers abandoned the ship, leaving refugees to their fates ( Says TIME magazine).
Left to their own lot, they drifted up and down the sea with limited food and water. Soon that would peter out leaving them just handful of morsel and few drops of water. Unable to quench thirst, they began to collect their urine. As they drifted closer to Thailand, they were pushed towards Malaysia and back again to Thailand. Landed on Indonesian coast---eventually, they were more dead than alive. Children according to TIME swollen bellies from extreme malnutrition. Now come to grim realities of our times.
To the refugees fleeing war, poverty and totalitarian governments, earth is a real hell. Hundreds of people from Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan board rickety boats to better places. They just want food and a roof over their heads. Hundreds from Africa, attempting to settle in Europe crossing the Mediterranean, drowned in the sea burial last year. As for Rohingya people, we have no idea how many of them died in the process. Earlier in May, more than 30 migrants’ bodies were recovered in close Thai’s border with Malaysia. In another instance, as many as 139 bodies were found in Malaysian lime stone hills. However, Rohingya faces a unique situation. Nobody out there is to help them.
Although they have been living in Burma for several centuries, Burmese authorities don’t care about them. Rohingya people, mostly Muslims, are indigenous to Rakhine State of Burma. They have suffered a lot at the hands of extremist Buddhist groups there. According to studies, they are the most persecuted religious minorities in the world. More than physical torture, Burmese government led by General Ne Win in 1982 denied Rohingya citizenship.
Now they are people with no nation and roof over the heads. Just as their suffering mount, the region’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN) watched the whole show from galleries. So did most of the neigbouring nations. Those who survived ordeal by sea are still living in temporary camps in many nations. Their lives are still in tenterhooks.