Asia

SE Asia migrants 'killed in fight for food' on boat

  • 17 May 2015
  • From the section Asia
Media captionThe BBC's Martin Patience : "For those still at sea, their fate remains unknown"

Migrants rescued from a sinking boat off Indonesia have told the BBC that about 100 people died after a fight broke out over the last remaining food.

Survivors told of horrific conditions. Three men separately said people were stabbed, hanged or thrown overboard.

The 700 rescued migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh are being processed by the Indonesian authorities.

Thousands of migrants are estimated to be adrift in South East Asian waters, denied permission to land.

The BBC's Martin Patience spoke to some of the survivors in the Indonesian port of Langsa, on the island of Aceh. He cautions that their accounts cannot be verified.

Image caption Many of the rescued migrants were suffering from malnutrition and dehydration
Image caption A medical tent has been set up to treat the migrants in Langsa

However, three migrants made similar statements in separate conversations.

If true, the claims will add to the growing international pressure on Asian countries to find a solution to this crisis, our correspondent says.

The migrants had wanted to land in Malaysia but say they were driven away by the Malaysian navy.

Media captionThe BBC's Jonathan Head: "It is quite possible we will never hear from it again"

The boat had reportedly been at sea for two months and had been recently deserted by its crew when it was rescued by Indonesian fishermen on Friday.

The survivors are now being sheltered in warehouses on the shore in Langsa. Many are suffering from malnutrition and dehydration.

The Myanmar government has insisted it is not responsible for the migrant boat crisis and said it might not attend a forthcoming summit on the issue.

Image caption Many women and children are among the Rohingya migrants in Langsa

On Sunday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said he hoped to discuss the crisis with Myanmar "before it is brought to the international level".

Malaysia currently chairs regional group the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

"We have to look at our own interests too, our social problems and security problems '' Mr Aman said after talks with his Bangladeshi counterpart Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali.

"We are asking Myanmar to participate in finding a solution," he said.

Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Buddhist-majority Myanmar - also known as Burma - because they are not recognised as citizens and face persecution.

Many of the Bangladeshis at sea are thought to be economic migrants.

Early on Sunday there were reported to be at least five people-smuggling boats, carrying up to 1,000 migrants, moored just off the northern coast of Myanmar.

Because Thailand and Malaysia are stopping the boats landing, the smugglers are now reluctant to make the journey but are refusing to release those on board unless ransoms are paid, says the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Myanmar's main city, Yangon (Rangoon).


Who are the Rohingyas?

  • Rohingyas are a distinct, Muslim ethnic group mainly living in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma
  • Thought to be descended from Muslim traders who settled there more than 1,000 years ago
  • Also live in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
  • In Myanmar, they are regularly persecuted - subjected to forced labour, have no land rights, and are heavily restricted
  • In Bangladesh many are also desperately poor, with no documents or job prospects