Migrants and refugees who spent months at sea and found help in Indonesia’s Aceh province claim up to 200 people died on the journey with 14 people, including seven children, dying before the boat was turned around by both the Indonesian and Malaysian navies.
The 677 survivors were rescued by Indonesian fishermen and brought ashore last Thursday.
It has since emerged that Rohingyas and ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh were involved in onboard violence that left seven people dead, as food and water supplies ran out.
The migrants claimed many passengers died by drowning either when they fell overboard or when the boat began to take on water.
It is impossible to verify the accuracy of some of the claims due to the language barriers.
There are differing accounts of the onboard violence with accusations being made by ethnic groups who admit to the clashes but blame each other for starting them.
A 21-year-old Rohingya man, Muhammad Rafique, who already has UN Refugee Status, said the Bengalis were the aggressors.
“Bengali … they said, you are Rohingya, they kill us, they kill us by the knife, by the hammer,” he said.
But Bengali Mohammad Abdur Rahim, 23, said it was the Rohingyas who started it.
“Myanmar people do not give us any food, any water, they are torturing (us) every day,” he said.
Boat turned away from Indonesian, Malaysian waters
The clashes seem to have occurred after the asylum seekers left the waters off Thailand and were then abandoned by the people smugglers and the ship’s captain.
From what those on board who can speak English say, three to four boats left from Bangladesh and Myanmar weeks ago.
Off the Thai coast, the smugglers then transferred them all to one bigger boat, and later abandoned them.
Last week they reached Indonesian waters but were rejected by the Indonesian navy.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, conceded the navy had contact with a boat on Tuesday but said the people wanted to get to Malaysia so Indonesia gave them fuel, food and water.
Indonesia’s military spokesman Fuad Basya told the ABC the navy escorted them out of Indonesian waters.
Mr Abdur Rahim said the Indonesian navy took them to Malaysian waters.
Major General Basya said “It’s the military’s responsibility to protect the country’s territory”.
He added the navy would keep turning asylum seeker boats away unless directed otherwise.
Once the boat reached Malaysian waters, the passengers met a similar response.
The navy again provided supplies but refused entry to Malaysian waters.
The boat, adrift at sea with no port of destination, began taking on water.
It was Acehnese fishermen who rescued the 677 Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshis and brought them to Langsa.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported regional countries taking action to stop people smuggling boats by turning them around and stood by the Australian Government doing the same.
“I don’t apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary and if other countries choose to do that, frankly, that is almost certainly absolutely necessary.”
Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished. A number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips.
Australia urged to help ease crisis by taking more refugees
Australia’s former ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia John McCarthy said Australia could not just be a witness to the crisis and needed to significantly increase its refugee intake.
“It is a major gesture,” he said.
“We are a country that can afford to take refugees and it has to be bipartisan. If this is not bipartisan we’re not going to get it up.
“The only prospect I can see of Australia playing a constructive role is by saying that we will actually increase our intake of refugees above the 12,000-odd we take currently to a much larger number.”