Indonesia | Dramatic Rohingya rescue operation on the open sea

(Meulaboh) After a night of fruitless searching off the coast of Indonesia, the captain of a rescue ship suddenly saw a point on the horizon: a group of desperate, sunburned Rohingya refugees was drifting, clinging on for dear life. than hurt to the rusty hull of an overturned ship.


Departing from Bangladesh, these men, women and children were trying to escape the camps and their crime, poverty and lack of hope to reach the shores of Indonesia or, possibly, Malaysia for a better life.

Aboard a rescue ship that left shortly after midnight, a rescuer saw through his binoculars a man desperately waving a red shirt, hoping to be spotted.

These refugees, members of a Muslim minority persecuted in Burma, had just been shipwrecked twice: the wooden boat on which they had set out capsized on Wednesday, then the fishing boat which came to their rescue in turn overturned under overload.

It was the hull of the boat that they clung to, as one clings to life. But according to one of the six survivors rescued Wednesday, others were not so lucky and were swept away by the currents.

“The first thing I saw was a little girl of about five years old,” said an AFP journalist on board the rescue ship.

“A rescuer carried the little girl, I looked at her feet and they were very wrinkled, as if they had been submerged in water for a long time,” he continued. “She looked so weak and dehydrated, but her face looked hopeful again.”

As the lifeboat approached them, men and children stood huddled together, water rushing around their legs while rescuers tied a line to the hull to hold the boat up. proximity.

Panicked, some men tried to jump into the semi-rigid, before the rescuers and some of their companions in misfortune calmed them. Others made sure to let the children board first.

PHOTO HENDRI, REUTERS

These refugees, members of a Muslim minority persecuted in Burma, had just been shipwrecked twice.

Rescuers had to negotiate to decide who to bring back first. Some survivors, too tired, had to be carried, while others patiently waited their turn.

“Exhausted, traumatized”

Once aboard the large rescue ship, safe and protected from the dangerous sun, some burst into tears and hugged each other. Other Rohingyas, exhausted, were shivering.

“They seemed exhausted and traumatized. The women’s faces were red, burned by the sun,” explained the AFP journalist.

After surviving this dramatic episode, the children sat in silence, drinking water and eating cookies.

A first group of six Rohingyas were rescued on Wednesday by fishermen and, according to refugees, other fishermen had promised to help them return to land.

The 69 survivors returned to dry land Thursday afternoon, many of them being taken to a temporary shelter. Ambulances were waiting for several others to transport them to hospital.

PHOTO ZAHLUL AKBAR, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The 69 survivors returned to dry land Thursday afternoon, many of them being taken to a temporary shelter.

According to one of the survivors, more than a hundred refugees were on board when the boat capsized. The fate of the missing remains unknown at this time.

Those who survived explain that it is better to try to reach a new country while risking your life than to stay in Bangladesh.

“For the Rohingya, there is no work” in the camps, testified Dostgior, a 27-year-old survivor. “I like to work, but I don’t have the right to do so. What else can I do? »

The accident occurred in the middle of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. As rescuers recovered the survivors, an old man knelt down. Hands folded in prayer, tears began to stream down his face.


reference: www.lapresse.ca

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