The horrific tale of two Bangladeshi migrants
After 36 hours adrift at sea, clinging to an imaginatively improvised float, the two Bangladeshi friends reached the shore of Indonesia's far northwest coast alive to tell their remarkable tale.
The pair had been aboard a cramped boat carrying hundreds of desperate migrants to Malaysia when one of them, Habibur Rahman, unable to withstand hunger pangs, tried to take some food, and was caught and thrown overboard by furious fellow passengers.
His companion, Saiful Islam, watched helplessly as Habibur -- his close friend since childhood -- disappeared over the side, before he flung himself into the water after him.
The pair from Pabna in Bangladesh are just two of an estimated 2,000 boat people from Myanmar and Bangladesh -- including many ethnic Rohingya -- who have swum ashore, been rescued or intercepted off Malaysia and Indonesia in recent days.
Migrant-rights advocates are warning that thousands more men, women and children are believed stuck at sea, exposed to disease, starvation, thirst and drowning as smugglers abandon their human cargoes following a Thai police crackdown that has disrupted people-smuggling routes.
Islam and Habibur washed up at a beach in East Aceh, where astonished locals provided them with food and water.
They were speaking to AFP in Lhoksukon, where roughly 600 migrants from another boat have been held in a makeshift camp since arriving at Aceh at the weekend.
They were fortunate to make land. After they went overboard, their cries were ignored and the boat sailed on leaving the men, both aged 30, bobbing in the open ocean with nothing but their traditional clothing to help keep them afloat.
"We made the sarong I was wearing into a balloon," Habibur, a father of two, told AFP.
"We hung onto it and swam away, without any clear direction."
They drank seawater as their situation became more desperate, scanning the featureless horizons for fishing boats.
But as the light faded on the second evening of their time adrift at sea, their spirits rose.
"At night, we saw a light," Islam said, describing what turned out to be a tower in the far distance.
They managed to make shore but the fate of their fellow passengers is far from certain. The Indonesian navy towed the boat back out to sea on Tuesday, and it has not been seen since.
Hundreds of migrants on similar routes have already died in the last four months.
The pair's experience with the people smuggling trade paints a vivid picture of the ordeal many go through pursuing better lives.
Many are fleeing religious and ethnic persecution in their homelands, while others are seeking greater economic opportunities elsewhere.