Rohingya refugee recounts sea journey to Indonesia

STORY: Crying tears of relief, Rohingya refugee Fatimah bin Ismail makes a video call to her family to let them know she's safe.

The 19-year-old has just completed a traumatic 40-day voyage from Bangladesh to Indonesia in a leaky boat.

She was one of hundreds of refugees, fleeing poverty and persecution, to attempt the crossing this week.

At least 20 people died on the way.

Fatimah remembers how some passengers leapt into the water fearing the boat would sink.

Others couldn't cope with the hunger.

“After a few days, people started jumping from the boat to the sea. Some five men wanted to find other boats around, we don’t know where they went. Then after a few days, five men jumped because they couldn’t handle the hunger. Then after 12 days, water started coming into the boat, and more people jumped because they feared the boat would sink in the ocean. There were bodies floating in the water, here and there. We couldn’t do anything.”

The Rohingya are a Muslim people from mainly Buddhist Myanmar, where they have long suffered repression.

Since a crackdown by the country's military in 2017, around 800,000 have been forced into Bangladesh.

While they may have found safety there, their living conditions in the refugee camps have become desperate.

Rights groups have recorded a major rise in the number of Rohingya leaving the camps from about 500 in 2021 to some 2,400 this year.

Many now want to reach the Muslim-majority countries of Indonesia or Malaysia.

But not all are as successful as Fatimah.

The U.N. says 2022 could be one of the deadliest years at sea in almost a decade for the Rohingya.