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'Starved for 13 Days, Drank Sea Water': Rohingya Refugee on Stranded Boat To Kin

After starving for weeks, around 160 Rohingya refugees were finally rescued by Indonesian civilians on 26 December.

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"My sister and niece told me they didn't eat for 13 days. They thought they would die at sea... They survived. We spoke for 10 minutes and just cried," said Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh, over a call.

His 28-year-old sister Khatemonesa and five-year-old niece Umme Salima were on the ill-fated boat that was stranded in the Andaman Sea for nearly a month.

On 26 December, after being adrift at sea for around four weeks, the boat was rescued and brought to shore at Indonesia's Aceh island by civilians.

That day, Khan told The Quint he didn't know if his sister and niece were even alive. A day later, he informed The Quint that his sister and niece were indeed alive, and getting medical assistance. As per Khan, at least 20 people on board the wooden, non-seaworthy vessel had died at sea. There were at least 160 on board in all.

After starving for weeks, around 160 Rohingya refugees were finally rescued by Indonesian civilians on 26 December.

28-year-old sister Khatemonesa and her 5-year-old daughter Umme Salima in Indonesia's Aceh Island.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

‘Had To Drink Salty Sea Water'

"We talked about their journey and how it was. They had stopped eating for 13 days and after that they had to drink salty sea water," said Khan about his call with his sister.

Sharing screenshots of the video call on Twitter in which Khatemonesa and her daughter can be seen crying, and looking emaciated, Khan said, "Alhamdulillah! Thanks once again to the Indonesian gov and its public for your humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya at all times."

The ill-fated boat had left from a coast near Cox's Bazar refugee camp for Malaysia on 25 November. The wooden boat however faced engine failure on 1 December and was stranded in the Andaman Sea.

In three videos accessed by The Quint, Indonesians can be seen helping the rescued refugees to the shore. Two 30-second clips show men, women, and children, looking emaciated, walking to the shore, drenched, and falling to the ground at Indonesia’s Aceh Island.

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Khan further told The Quint, that on 27 December, they could only talk for a few minutes. "I will speak to them again tomorrow. They are currently getting medical attention and have been given food and water."

‘We Welcome This Act of Humanity’: UNHCR

Welcoming Indonesia's rescue, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that it "is relieved to see more than 200 desperate people being brought ashore to safety, in north-west Indonesia over the past few days. Many among them are believed to have been adrift for at least a month, without any help before being rescued."

In a statement UNHCR said, "Indonesian fishermen and local authorities rescued and disembarked two groups, some 58 on Sunday and 174 - including a majority of women and children, on Monday."

"We welcome this act of humanity by local communities and authorities in Indonesia,” said Ann Maymann, UNHCR Representative in Indonesia."
Ann Maymann, UNHCR Representative in Indonesia.

“These actions help to save human lives from certain death, ending torturous ordeals for many desperate people,” Maymann added.

Speaking about the poor living conditions in the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, Khan had earlier told The Quint, “We know the journey is filled with risks but here (in Bangladesh), we have no right to education or work. This is why people are taking such huge risks and fleeing… Hoping some country will give us refuge."

A million Rohingya refugees have been living in squalor since 2017 — the year when the ethnic group faced genocide at the hands of the Myanmar government. Facing persecution, the fleeing refugees do not want to return to Myanmar at any cost.

Click here to read The Quint's reportage on the arduous month-long journey.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Bangladesh   Indonesia   Malaysia 

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