An estimated 53,000 people departed from Bangladesh and Myanmar for Thailand and Malaysia during January-November 2014, risking their lives on smugglers' boats, says a new UNHCR report.
According to UNB news published on Saturday, the UNHCR estimates that 54,000 people have undertaken irregular maritime journeys in the region so far this year, says the UN Refuge Agency based on reports by local sources, media and people who survived the journeys.
Hundreds of others followed routes through the Indian Ocean from South Asia and Indonesia to Australia and across the Strait of Malacca from Malaysia to Indonesia despite the prospect of horrific violence en route.
The outflow from the Bay of Bengal tends to peak in October, when calmer waters follow the end of the rainy season, according to the report titled 'Irregular Maritime Movements in South-East Asia' prepared by UNHCR Regional Office on January-November 2014.
Departures this October surged more than in previous years. Some 21,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have set sail since then, a 37-percent increase over the same period last year.
About 10 percent are believed to be women. Roughly one-third of arrivals interviewed by UNHCR in Thailand and Malaysia were minors under 18 years of age. Children as young as eight years old are known to have made the journey alone.
In total some 120,000 people are believed to have embarked on these voyages in the Bay of Bengal since the start of 2012.
With payments ranging from US$1,600 to US$2,400 demanded for each passenger, smugglers plying this route are believed to have generated nearly US$250 million in revenue in the last three years.
While the majority of people paid smugglers for the journeys, there were isolated accounts of people who said they were forced onto boats, sometimes at gunpoint, in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
UNHCR staff met two Rohingya boys in Malaysia who said they were kidnapped off the street in northern Rakhine state in late September and forced onto boats.
Conditions on the smugglers' boats were dire. Survivors consistently described overcrowded conditions and daily rations of one sparse meal and one to two cups of water.
People who asked for more or tried to use the toilet out of turn were beaten with belts or kicked down ladders by the armed crew on the deck above.
An estimated 540 people have reportedly died this year at sea from such beatings, starvation or dehydration, and their bodies thrown overboard. ?UNB