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Rohingya, Bangladeshi migrants describe carnage over food

LANGSA, Indonesia – Farouk, 22, one of the Bangladeshi migrants who made it to Aceh after a perilous sea journey, showed the scars on the back of his friend, Dabul, 24.

These, he indicated, were the result of vicious clashes that erupted on May 14, 2015, between the Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants on board a boat that was running low on food and water after having been pushed back by both the Indonesian and Malaysian navies. 

"Burma, food. Bengali, no food," he told Rappler in limited English during an interview at the refugee camp in Kuala Langsa, Aceh, where they were taken after being rescued by Indonesian fishermen on May 15. 

The clashes, which involved axes, knives and metals bars, left at least 100 dead, some survivors said as they recovered from their ordeal.

Farouk believes about 200 died.

While many were hacked to death on board, others jumped from the ship as they sought to escape the carnage, and those that survived were rescued by Indonesian fishermen and brought to shore. 

'We realized we would die' 

Mohammad Murad Hussein, a Bangladeshi, told how the Rohingya were on the top deck of the boat and the Bangladeshis, who made up the bulk of passengers, were on a lower deck.

As fighting erupted, the Rohingya sought to stop the Bangladeshis coming onto the upper deck by attacking them with axes and spraying water at them that was laced with pepper, he said.

"From the upper deck they were spraying hot water, pepper water at us, anyone who went up was hacked at with a cleaver," said the 30-year-old, whose body was covered with many scars.

"In the end we realized we would die. Then we decided to fight them and bring them down with us."

The boat started leaking and sinking as the violence escalated, at which point many people started jumping into the water, he said.

'They probably think we are all dead'

However, Rohingya refugee Mohammad Amih said the Bangladeshis attacked the Rohingya, after they insisted the remaining water on board should be saved for the children.

Amih said that he had told the Bangladeshis: "We should keep it for the children because they cannot survive without water."

As the Bangladeshis – most of whom are seeking to escape from grinding poverty back home – came on to them, Amih said that he tried to hide among the women on board but was soon discovered.

"They hit me on the head and then threw me overboard. After that I swam towards the local fishermen's boats," he said.

As the migrants recovered from the ordeal, their thoughts turned to their families back home. Many have been out of contact with their loved ones for two months, since embarking on the sea voyage.

"We cannot call our families back home, they don't know whether we are alive or not. They probably think we are all dead," said Bangladeshi migrant Mohammad Meshar Ali. – Reports from Febriana Firdaus and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com