Rohingya Muslims at a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) have spoken of their ordeal at sea, as they attempted, and failed, to flee Burma.
Pregnant Be Be Asha and her husband Marmot Rar Sein were on a trawler heading southeast from the city of Sittwe, but had to return to the camp after the mother-to-be almost died on the trip.
Be Be Asha was becoming a burden for the smugglers, who were transporting 300 people, packed onto their ship for nearly two months, with limited supplies of food and water.
The traffickers threatened to throw her into the sea.
“She cried on the boat and I asked other people to call the boat crew and tell them not to throw my wife into the sea,” said Marmot.
The couple were eventually taken from the ship in a surprise rescue organised by a community leader from a nearby Burmese port.
Now, they are living in one of the many camps built for Burma’s Rohingya minority after clashes with Arakanese Buddhist mobs in 2012 left more than 140,000 Rohingya homeless and 280 dead.
Local businessman, Kyaw Hla said he had pleaded with the traffickers to let the couple go.
“I requested to him [the trafficker], there is any way for him to call back them to their home. So, he said if someone help 200,000 kyats [US$184] per body, it will be possible for the trafficker to call back them from the ship,” he said.
The Rohingya are a much resented minority in Burma, where many people consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Most of the country’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions
In a bid to flee poverty and persecution, thousands have attempted the perilous journey across the Bay of Bengal to Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand.
With neighbouring countries refusing to take in all the migrants, hundreds of “boat people” are still stranded at sea.
But the chief prosecutor of Rakhine State, Hla Thein, denied they were originally from Burma.
“I think the broker or trafficker on the boat told them (the Rohingyas) to identify themselves as ‘Rohingya’. I also think there are other groups behind this, supporting them. That’s why the so-called Rohingyas on the boat are not from our region of the country,” he said.
Burma’s government identifies the Rohingya as “Bengalis”, a name most Rohingya reject because it implies they are immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh despite many having lived in Burma for generations.
The United Nations said last week that the deadly pattern of migration across the Bay of Bengal would continue unless Burma ended discrimination.
There has been no sign yet of a coordinated response from regional governments over what to do with some 2,500 migrants who have landed in Malaysia and Indonesia over the past week or some 5,000 others still stranded at sea.