After ordeal at sea, Rohingya toddler dies in Indonesia

2015-05-24 10:00
An ethnic Rohingya boy sleeps on a cot at a temporary shelter in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia. (Binsar Bakkara, AP)

An ethnic Rohingya boy sleeps on a cot at a temporary shelter in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia. (Binsar Bakkara, AP)

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Langsa -Beneath the swaying banana trees, there is nothing but a few plants to mark the resting place of 3-year-old Shahira Bibi and the horror of the final weeks of her short life, at sea on a migrant boat.

When the tiny Rohingya girl from Myanmar was finally rescued from the sinking vessel off Indonesia's western Aceh province, her body was already wracked with spasms and weighed no more than a six-month-old baby.

Some 100 people had already died onboard when clashes broke out between Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants over the meagre rations of food and water left after weeks adrift.

As the fighting escalated, the boat started to go down - but fishermen spotted the desperate migrants off Aceh just in time, and ferried them to shore on May 15.

Shahira was taken to hospital, but by then she was already desperately ill and there was little the medical team could do to save her.

Her death is the latest tragic tale from a migrant crisis that has seen more than 3 500 boat people arrive in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia in the past two weeks.

"Deep inside my heart, I am very sad," her mother Mimi told AFP, describing how she has cried constantly since losing her daughter on Wednesday.

Now she is trying to stay strong for her other daughter, four-year-old Asma, who was also on the boat.

"If I look sad Asma will cry, so I am laughing with her," said 25-year-old Mimi, who goes by only one name.

Like thousands of Muslim Rohingya fleeing persecution in Buddhist Myanmar, the family had been trying to make their way to relatively affluent Malaysia where Mimi's husband is working.

But a clampdown by Thailand, where many stop before travelling overland to Malaysia, disrupted long-established people-smuggling routes and the boat carrying the family and hundreds of others was abandoned by its crew.

Deepening their misery, the vessel was turned away by Thailand and Malaysia during the hellish journey, under a hardline policy that the region has softened in the face of international outrage.

'Her body was stiff'

housands of Rohingya fleeing from persecution in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, along with Bangladeshis seeking to escape grinding poverty at home, are still believed to be stranded at sea.

Around 1 800 have been rescued or swum to shore in Aceh, most arriving in pitiful condition - emaciated, weak and ill.

Authorities and volunteers in the province, itself with a history of conflict and disaster, are scrambling to teach them basic hygiene and sanitation to stop the spread of diseases contracted on long voyages.

When Shahira arrived, she was desperately ill with tetanus that had entered her body through wounds.

"Her body was already stiff, her hands clenching into fists," nurse Yahrini said, describing common symptoms of tetanus, typically contracted when contaminated dirt enters a cut.

"At first I could still hear her crying softly," added the nurse, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Doctors battled for several days to save Shahira's life, but in the end the tetanus was too advanced, and they could do nothing for her.

She was buried on Wednesday in a local cemetery far from her native Myanmar, under a small mound of earth among banana trees, with no markings on the grave except for small plants at either end.

Mimi is struggling to overcome her tragedy, and trying to come to terms with the loss as the will of God.

"In the hospital the doctor gave my baby very good treatment, but it is the decision of Allah that my baby is gone," she said.

Read more on:    indonesia  |  migrants

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