Haresa measured the days by the moon, waxing and waning over the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Her days on the trawler, packed into a space so tight she couldn’t even stretch her legs, seeped into weeks, the weeks into months.
Haresa, 18, said of the other refugees on the boat that people struggled like they were fish flopping around – then they ceased moving.
Dozens of bodies were flung overboard, some beaten and some starved. Haresa’s aunt died, then her brother.
Six full moons after she boarded the fishing boat in Bangladesh with hopes that human traffickers would transport her to Malaysia for an arranged marriage – Haresa, who goes by one name and almost 300 other Rohingya refugees found refuge in Indonesia – her sister, 21, died two days after the boat anchored.
Exiled from their homes in Myanmar and packed into refugee settlements in neighbouring Bangladesh, thousands of Rohingya have taken the dangerous boat crossing to Malaysia, where many from the oppressed minority group struggle as undocumented workers – hundreds have died along the way.
Most of those now embarking on the trip, like Haresa, are girls and young women from refugee camps in Bangladesh whose parents have promised them in marriage to Rohingya men in Malaysia – two-thirds of those who anchored in Indonesia with Haresa were female.
Amira Bibi and her family fled their native Rakhine State, in Myanmar’s far west, as the military torched hundreds of Rohingya villages three years ago. The fourth of nine siblings, she said she knew her place in life.
She said that her parents were getting old and her brothers were with their own families, so how long were her parents going to endure the burden of her?
She said through the matchmaking of a cousin in Malaysia who worked as a grass cutter, her parents found a fiancee for her – she asked details about the man but none were provided, apart from his name.
After surviving more than six months at sea in a failed endeavour to contact him, she spoke from Indonesia with her fiancee a country away. The phone call lasted two minutes. She said he sounded young and that was the extent of what she knew about him.
Ms Bibi originally told staff from the United Nations refugee agency that she was 15 years old, but later amended her age to 18 – child marriage is common among the Rohingya, particularly in rural communities.
You only have to look at their faces to see that they’re terrified, traumatised and in various states of shock.
This is human trafficking, and yet it seems that it’s okay to traffick them because they’re female and it’s maddening and a nightmare with no end in sight.
This is awful and these innocent girls should be protected, although some might say that it’s none of our business and that their culture is not ours to meddle with, but in some cultures, they don’t have a choice in life.
Many of these children aren’t allowed to be children because they’re terrorised and then shipped off to marry a man that’s not of their choosing. However, many don’t want this kind of life, yet it’s forced upon them, especially if they don’t obey the rules – makes my discipline as a child of being sent to my room pale in comparison.
We should never be afraid of not having a choice in life, wondering what kind of life that will be – having all our power taken away.
We should all have the ability to choose, particularly women, but these young girls don’t have any rights or support from their families because they come from a different world entirely and the world needs to know about this.