The modern day evil demons
The Arakkans of Hindu mythology were evil demons. But even they will be put to shame by the evil that is being perpetrated on those who now live in what was once the kingdom of Arakan.
I HAD wanted to write about the Arakkans of Hindu mythology, the “evil demons” who were locked in constant war with the godly Devas. It is said the Arakkans left north India and moved south and south east towards what is now modern day Myanmar where they set up the kingdom of Arakan.
That has now become the place known as Rakhine. Its people, the Rohingya, are being persecuted and, fleeing the persecution, they have become a source of much worry to the entire region.
That was until I met Akbar. He told me of an evil far greater than any that could have been possibly wrought by the Arakkan of mythology, an evil driven by the greed for money and the gullibility of the poor man. This is Akbar’s story.
Akbar had a little shop in the city of Khulna in Bangladesh, one of those little lean-to sheds that sell bric-a-brac.
Life was hard. So, when an agent came promising him a new life and big money in Malaysia, he fell for it.
All he had to do was fork out RM8,000. It was RM5,000 (120,000 takas) up front and the remainder upon arriving in Malaysia, where he had a friend.
He sold his shop and business for RM5,000 and handed the money to the agent. He was off to the port city of Chittagong where he was put on a small fishing boat and taken to a bigger boat.
They waited for several days until there were about 50 people on board before sailing to the Bangladesh border. Another long wait, and another 50 people got on board.
Then it was across into Myanmar waters.
Over 17 days, about 100 Rohingyas were brought on board in little boats. For those on board, there was little water to drink and little food. And absolutely no baths.
Things just got worse from there. The boat started sailing towards Thailand and the real evil came to the fore. They took five days to get to the Thai shores.
A man had diarrhoea and wanted some medicine. He was beaten over the head with a thick piece of wood. Until he collapsed unconscious.
The reports are wrong, says Akbar. They do not throw the dead overboard.
They throw the sickly ones overboard. While they are still alive. Screaming in pain. And with their abdomens slit open. The bodies will not bloat or float.
Akbar saw nine people being thrown overboard. These human smugglers are pure evil.
The living had to clear the blood of those thrown overboard.
They were told that if they caught the same illness, they would die the same way. They cleaned up in a hurry.
In Thailand, the boat stayed off shore for seven days.
Those on board stayed unwashed. The men took them four at a time to a hill from where they could make a call home.
Akbar was told to ask his father for RM10,000. Or he would die. They said the money was to pay the Thai and Malaysian authorities.
His father sold his only piece of land to pay the agent in Bangladesh. When the payment finally came through, he was taken with 12 others to a river that he says looked little more than a monsoon drain.
It could have been Sungai Golok. They travelled for hours down the river and then had to wade across and walk for some three kilometres where a van was waiting.
There were no passenger seats in the van, just a piece of cloth at the back.
All 13 had to crouch low, with their heads not visible from outside. If their heads were raised above window level, the guard would hit them over their heads with a plank.
Akbar is short. And the journey had emaciated him. He was happy to stay below window level with his head down, he says with a smile.
How he could still smile, I will never know.
They stopped at many places to ensure there were no roadblocks ahead and after countless hours, they reached Kuala Lumpur.
Here, he was asked to call his friend. All he could say was: “I have reached KL”. The guards snatched the phone and demanded RM300 from the friend.
Finally, after more than a month of being unwashed, starved and beaten, Akbar was finally rescued by the friend in Kuala Lumpur.
Now, he wishes he had never made the journey, never fallen for the sweet promises of the agent.
He thinks his ordeal is over. He is in Kuala Lumpur. He wants to earn the RM15,000 he and his father paid and repay the RM300 to his friend. And then, earn some money and go home.
But first, he has to evade the authorities, get a job, somehow raise RM15,000 and, without any papers, find his way home. His ordeal is only just beginning.
Akbar is not alone. A Myanmar who was with him said he had been taken by boat to Thailand and trekked for days to a railway station south of the border. Dorairaj Nadason The STAR Home News Opinion Columnist May 15, 2015
An Asean tragedy that costs lives and suffering
They call it the chaos theory. An arbitrarily small change in initial conditions can cause a significant difference in the future.
The current deluge of illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh is testimony to that.
Myanmar’s rejection of Rohingyas as valid citizens started the cycle going. Stateless, these people were ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous syndicates. The sydicates had no qualms about exploiting them, and thousands have since fallen victim.
In recent days, at least 1,000 have arrived in Langkawi in boats meant to hold a dozen people, while about 900 more have been rescued off the coast of Acheh. Many others are believed to be still at sea.
They are among the thousands who flee the difficult conditions back home in the hope of finding better lives in places like Malaysia. Part of their perilous journeys is via Thailand, but an ongoing Thai government crackdown on human trafficking, focusing on the border with Malaysia, has caused the jittery traffickers to take to the sea with the immigrants to escape detection, or worse, to abandon the immigrants.
Although already paid for their services, these heartless ring members think nothing of setting adrift vessels full of immigrants, including women and children, with a scant supply of food and water, and with little ability to navigate their way to safety. If they are lucky – the word “lucky” is used here in the loosest sense – they reach a shore or get help before they perish.
However, try as they may, some of these boat people cannot outrun misfortune. There are accounts of immigrants succumbing to illness, exhaustion or beatings by the smugglers, and their bodies tossed overboard.
The fear now is that if nothing is done soon to locate those still at at sea, all that may be found are bloated bodies washed ashore and boats laden with corpses.
There is an Asean context to this tragic chain of events. Most of these immigrants are ethnic minorities from Myanmar, mostly Rohingyas. Some may have left their country in search of jobs, but the others want refuge.
As at end February, there were more than 152,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia. Almost 93% are from Myanmar.
The tough enforcement in Thailand seems to have shifted (and probably worsened) the problem of the smuggling of migrants. Indonesia is not accepting them, just giving them drinks and food and pointing them towards Malaysia.
Malaysia now have to deal with boatloads of illegal immigrants, like the Vietnamese boat people crisis decades ago.
This should not be Malaysia’s problem. It’s a regional one.
Thailand has called for for talks to address the region’s human trafficking trade. Malaysia and Myanmar have responded positively. That is certainly a good start, as there is an urgent need to address the issue.
Back in July 2009, the Asean Foreign Ministers asked the grouping’s secretariat to monitor the Rohingya situation. Three years later, then Asean secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan said: “We will keep our eyes and ears on the plight of these unfortunate people.” Clearly, it is time to do a lot more than that. The sydnicates must be stopped. And the fleeing thousands housed. This problem has to be nipped now.
Or there will be significant repercussions in the future. There could be full-fledged chaos. The STAR Says Home News Opinion May 13, 2015