Migrants on Road to Recovery after Ordeal at Sea

By: Agence France-Presse
May 29, 2015 9:10 PM

2015-0530 Migrants on Road to Recovery after Ordeal at Sea

The green boat of Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees. AFP file photograph.

Bayeun, Indonesia – Images of the starving, desperate migrants pleading for help from their green wooden boat off Thailand caused shockwaves and focused global attention on Asia’s human-trafficking crisis.

But just over a week after being rescued off Indonesia, the boat people appear on the road to recovery. AFP tracked down some of the Rohingya and Bangladeshis, and found many relaxed, dressed in fresh clothes and less gaunt and emaciated.

They were being cared for at a camp of tents and derelict buildings in Bayeun, in the staunchly Islamic province Aceh, where there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the migrants, particularly the Rohingya, a Muslim minority who are fleeing persecution in mostly Buddhist Myanmar.

After weeks with little food and water at sea, they are now being given three meals a day and local Acehnese are bringing regular donations of clothes, toiletries and snacks. Most had had their heads shaved to prevent the spread of lice.

Muhammad Ehsan, an 18-year-old Bangladeshi, was photographed on May 14 half-submerged on the edge of the boat, stick-thin and wearing a dirty red vest, eating food dropped by a Thai army helicopter with another migrant, as the vessel floated off the Thai island of Koh Lipe.

Two weeks later he is barely recognisable, dressed neatly in a shirt, sarong and prayer cap.

“I’m a lot better than when I arrived,” he told AFP. “Praise God, the people here have been very nice to me and I am getting better day by day.”

The tale of how he ended up on the migrant boat echoed that of many others — he was a construction worker in Cox’s Bazar, southern Bangladesh, but was persuaded to board a people-smuggling vessel carrying hundreds of others with the promise of a highly-paid job in Malaysia.

“They hardly gave us anything to eat, we lived on dried chilli, raw pumpkins and bananas… We drank from the sea, we had no choice.”

Others in the camp were also slowly recovering from their ordeal.

Rohingya migrant Abdul Rasyid, 37, was pictured earlier this month looking forlorn and clutching his belly, dressed in a dirty white vest. Now in the Indonesian camp, he looked well fed and was dressed in a clean, white T-shirt, jeans and a prayer cap.

It was the same story with Yusuf, a 22-year-old Rohingya, who was photographed looking miserable and desperately thin as he clung to the side of the boat but now appears to be getting better.

The approximately 400 migrants on the boat are among several thousand who have made it to shore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand since the crisis erupted earlier this month.

The illicit trade was thrown into chaos at the start of May after a Thai crackdown disrupted long-established routes. People-smugglers who normally head to camps in Thailand abandoned their human cargo at sea, leaving them to be rescued by fishermen or dumping them in shallow water to swim to shore.

After being spotted by global media off Koh Lipe, the green wooden boat became emblematic of the migrant crisis. It lost contact for several days after it was seen off Thailand, raising fears for those on board.

It was pushed out of Malaysian waters, but Acehnese fishermen spotted the desperate migrants on May 20 and ferried them to shore, joining more than 1,000 others who have arrived in the province this month.

Southeast Asian nations, particularly Myanmar, have come in for criticism for their failure to address the crisis. Delegates from 17 nations were gathering in Thailand at a conference Friday to discuss the issue.

(Source: InterAksyon.com)

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