SE Asia migrants’ crisis: Kidnapped and witness to murder – one boy’s story
By Songporn “Bea” Leelakitichok, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator for Save the Children in Thailand
Abdul* has been looked after at the Phang Nga Shelter, in southern Thailand, for six months after being rescued from traffickers who kidnapped him for ransom and put him on a migrants’ boat by force.
At the age of just 11, Abdul has seen people being shot in the head and beaten to death in front of his eyes.
His story illustrates the appalling human cost of the migrants crisis affecting Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Authorities in the first two countries have recently uncovered the graves of hundreds of bodies of trafficked people.
“Both of my parents are in Myanmar. My father is 40 years old and my mother is 30 years old. They fish to earn money for our family,” said Abdul.
“The money they get is very little and we don’t get to eat a lot, so I helped my parents to do some work, very hard work, but still got very little money.”
Abdul talks about how he was brought here: “When the broker took me from my home, they told me to call my parents to pay for the ransom. But my parents didn’t have any money so they brought me to the boat.”
He goes on, “I didn’t get to say goodbye to my parents. My sister is also with them. I don’t know how they are right now. I really miss all of them. I want to see them again.”
Before embarking on the boat, the traffickers covered his eyes with some cloth, so he could not see which direction he was going. He was fed with very little food for one month on the boat, and then was brought to a mangrove forest for another month.
They tied a cloth around his head to cover his eyes again before the boat stopped at the forest. “In the jungle, I ate only bamboo shoots to survive,” he said. “I was transferred out of the jungle by two traffickers who came to pick us up.”
Dararat Suthes, Head of the Phang Nga Shelter, explained how Abdul was found and came to the shelter: “There were two vehicles together. The police were able to stop the first vehicle that carried 17 trafficked people and children, and sent them here. The other vehicle unfortunately escaped into the woods.”
The Phang Nga Shelter is currently housing 77 migrants at sea, including 20 boys and 24 girls. “We have to do this. Where would they be if we don’t take them?” said Dararat.
“I hope one day my life will be better,” said Abdul. “I have been here for six months already. I am happy here but if I wait patiently and behave well, maybe they will send me to America.” He added, “I want to study there. My parents will know and they can find me there.”
Save the Children is currently looking at how we can support children like Abdul and our teams will soon be on the ground to deliver a comprehensive response to help them recover from the horrors they’ve experienced.
Our Emergency Fund allows us to respond quickly to crises like this across the world.
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* Name changed to protect identity