Horror at Sea: Adrift for Months, Starving Asylum Seekers Threw 98 Bodies Overboard

Thirty-two asylum seekers rescued by the Sri Lankan navy say they went without food for 21 days and were forced to throw dozens of dead overboard after their wooden vessel failed at sea

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Reuters

Asylum seekers from Burma rest inside a naval ship after being rescued in Galle, Sri Lanka, on Feb. 17, 2013

Thirty-two asylum seekers rescued by the Sri Lankan navy say they went without food for 21 days and were forced to throw dozens of dead overboard after their wooden vessel failed at sea. The survivors, who identified themselves as Muslims from near the Burma-Bangladesh border, told local officials that they set out to seek refuge in Indonesia or Australia, but instead spent two months languishing on the water. By the time they were plucked from the sea, they’d thrown 98 bodies to the waves.

The nightmare of shipwreck may sound like a relic of another time, but what happened off the coast of Sri Lanka this week is alarmingly commonplace. The U.N. estimates that at least 13,000 people fled the borderlands between Burma and Bangladesh by boat in 2012. Of them, 485 are known to have drowned. This deadly tide looks unlikely to recede: at least 1,800 refugees washed up in Thailand in January 2013 alone.

(MORE: On Its Treatment on Minorities, Burma Has a Long Way to Go)

Why risk the waves? Many of the asylum seekers are ethnic Rohingya Muslims, a group the U.N. identifies as among the most isolated and oppressed in the world. Though many Rohingya have lived along the Bay of Bengal for generations, some 800,000 are stateless, sandwiched between Burma and Bangladesh, welcome in neither. The Burmese government has never recognized them as part of the patchwork nation’s 135 indigenous ethnic groups and, over the years, has restricted their right to live, work and marry. In June 2012, the reported rape of a Buddhist woman in Arakan (Rakhine) state sparked a wave of communal violence that left at least 78 dead and tens of thousands displaced. An August report by Human Rights Watch said Burmese security forces did little to stop the violence and committed acts of murder, rape and forced displacement.

In the months since that violence, the conflict has lingered on, with many ethnic Rohingya left to wait indefinitely in squalid camps. In a dispatch published yesterday, TIME contributor Jason Motlagh, outlined how conditions have deteriorated:

Eight months on, pockets of Rohingya that remain in rural Arakan state are in serious trouble. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced in early February that its field teams continued to face hostile threats from Arakanese leaders and state forces that forced them to cut back medical care. Moreover, the aid agency warned of a brewing “humanitarian emergency” in the heavily restricted camps around Sittwe. Burmese officials claim the camps are necessary to shield the Rohingya population from further harm, but MSF says that acute malnutrition, skin infections and other ailments caused by poor sanitation are on the rise, especially among those uprooted by a second spasm of violence in October and now live on the margins of established camps.

With few options for work, and limited prospects for peace, more and more people are fleeing, Motlagh writes:

Faced with stagnant conditions inside the camps and insecurity everywhere else, greater numbers are taking their chances on the open sea. Mohdi Kasim, a prominent Rohingya community leader living in one of the camps, described how his neighbor, a veteran police officer, showed up at his door earlier in the morning in tears asking for money to help cover his boat fare. Both of his sons had already left. According to Idriss, 35, a Rohingya boat builder with gold rings on his fingers, two to three vessels are leaving the Sittwe area every night, often packed with over 100 passengers. (He declines to disclose his full name for fear of persecution.) “We tell the people it’s not safe, but they insist on going,” he says. “They are suffering so much here.” (Read the full story: “Pushed From Burma, Stateless Rohingya Flee by Boat“)

Until that pain eases, desperate people will take to the water, and the death toll will rise.

21 comments
Ram2009
Ram2009

They would have paid $10-15000 for the privilege of getting to their destination, for a future in a land where the roads are paved with gold, but where they are utterly unwanted.   Their own TamilNadu motherland is not attractive to them at all.    

TamaraLitikova
TamaraLitikova

It's a sad story about people who are not wanted by anybody and about those who care of nothing but their own comfort. Obviously, living in their own country the Rohingya feel so terribly that they prefer to risk facing the death in the open sea rather than to stay and suffer from  discrimination, destitution and persecution. I think it's high time the UNO stepped in, otherwise the same sad fate will outlook the Rohingya as it did the American Indians. The problem needs solving as soon as possible.

MarinaNikonova
MarinaNikonova

What had happened it's really dreadful and awful...Why do the governments or the international governmental organizations can't do anything?? This was the demonstration of cruelty in respect to these refugees... This was the infringements of human rights. People who have no chance for normal life, tried to find it, but we all see the consequences of their hopes... really awful...


TatyanaZrelova
TatyanaZrelova

Having read a plenty of articles, I see that the world wants to make a better life for them and their families, they must be in an incredibly desperate situation and I feel very sorry for all those involved. But Australia is not very far off of having  borders swamped with refugees. It can face disasters.

PlumbLine
PlumbLine

Matthew 25:34-40..........

34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

mahendrantgt
mahendrantgt

This is a crude effort by genocidal Sri Lankan government to wash-away and clean their blood-soaked hands. More than 300,000 innocent Tamil civilians have been killed, women raped and thrown away from their own motherland.  When thousands of innocent civilians flee from own country (Sri Lanka) fearing the criminal regime in Sri Lanka, this news item and the truth behind Sri Lanka's hand with asylum seekers should be reconsidered by the readers.

Ram2009
Ram2009

@mahendrantgt   Are you referring to the 300000 illegals in Canada, who 'disappeared from Sri Lanka.    They should be helping their kith and kin to come to Scarborough in Canadian 'Eelam.'

gary
gary like.author.displayName 1 Like

And we think we have it bad .

PatrickE.Leiva
PatrickE.Leiva

Crime against humanity. Where's the UN? Why are the Rohingya people subject to what amounts to genocide and nobody cares? Isn't Burma trying to emerge as Myanmar? Can't pressure be brought to bear on the leaders here and Sri Lanka? Many questions. No answers.

BernardinaCortesKimmerle
BernardinaCortesKimmerle like.author.displayName 1 Like

and people were complaining about being stuck for FOUR DAYS in a cruise?  geesh

selestt
selestt

And they couldn't tweet and facebook....OMG soo sorry for the them. A wek of hell

Smart.
Smart.

@BernardinaCortesKimmerle  

It was hell on Earth for them, too. They had to eat their steak cold, and the water slides didn't even have as much water.

ZweiStein
ZweiStein like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

It's simply mind-boggling that Allah will NOT help these people.  Find a new God that cares about you! ... And good luck with that! 

Decided
Decided like.author.displayName 1 Like

@ZweiSteinYes, because the christian god is notorious for helping his followers, right?  I mean, after all, look at all of those children he saved in Newtown.  Not to mention all of the kids he protected from the priest that molested them.  Etc.  Etc.  Yup.  It's simply mind-boggling how much the christian god helps his people.  (*sarcasm*)

ZweiStein
ZweiStein like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Decided @ZweiStein Ah...please notice my last five words.  I am NOT a Christian.  I'm a Pagan/Deist.  Google it and you will understand my comment much better.  (But I do understand where your comment is coming from, since you apparently thought me a Christian.)

BillA
BillA like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@ZweiStein wow that is one of the most heartless comments I've ever read online.  THAT is what you thought of after reading this story?  It sounds like you need to look deep in your own soul and consider alternative religions.

ZweiStein
ZweiStein like.author.displayName 1 Like

@BillA @ZweiStein Heartless?  I can understand why it may sound that way, but I'll tell you what's really heartless:  Letting these people continue to hold onto their faith and the belief in that faith and in help coming from their God even though this staunch belief is keeping them in such inhumane conditions in their own corner of the world.  That is heartless.

ziblue
ziblue

@ZweiStein@BillA"Letting these people continue to hold onto their faith and the belief in that faith and in help coming from their God even though this staunch belief is keeping them in such inhumane conditions in their own corner of the world.  That is heartless."

Soooo...because *other humans* are oppressing them *for their beliefs*...the proper moral solution to the issue of the oppression of the Rohingya is that they should convert?

BillA
BillA

@ZweiStein @BillA That is a pretty immature belief system.  Every people have had period of hardship.  Perhaps you'll remember and reconsider your comments about innocent downtrodden folk of another faith when your deity allows an ill to befall you and your loved ones.  Or maybe you'll abandon your belief system at that point.

elcidharth
elcidharth

Immigration Reforms, Whodunit?@elcidharth.com