Three Rohingya refugees die days after seven-month ordeal on trafficking boat

Three Rohingya refugees die days after seven-month ordeal on trafficking boat

  • 300 people disembarked in Indonesia in a ‘terrible condition’ after being held hostage at sea by traffickers demanding payment

At least three young Rohingya refugees have died this week since landing in Indonesia after seven months at sea, relief workers have said.

After being refused entry by several countries and held hostage at sea by traffickers, 296 refugees disembarked in Aceh province on Monday, weak and in poor health. Two-thirds of them were women and children.

The UN refugee agency said tests for Covid-19 had all come back negative but there was concern for the refugees’ health.

“They were in a terrible condition,” said Rima Shah Putra, local director for Aceh-based NGO Geutanyoe Foundation. “We had to burn their clothes they used before because they hadn’t been able to bathe or change their clothes. They were starving … about 30 of them died on the journey and they threw all the bodies to the sea.”

According to Geutanyoe, 21-year-old Norkolima died on Tuesday at a refugee shelter. She had earlier been checked by doctors after collapsing and complaining of severe head pains and breathing problems.

Another woman, Senwara Begum, 19, and a man, Hilal, 22, died in hospital. Another four people are still in a serious condition.

Geutanyoe said the refugees showed signs of mental trauma and physical abuse, possibly from the traffickers. One refugee had burn marks.

Chris Lewa, whose Arakan Project has monitored Rohingya sea journeys since 2006, said the refugees were essentially held hostage at sea since early this year. She said a contact with a relative on board explained that the traffickers held about 800 refugees at sea, releasing them in groups, which arrived earlier in Aceh and Malaysia.